Archive for Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shawnee teacher featured in book on diverse classrooms

July 21, 2010

What it means to be an American was a difficult lesson for Megan Highfill to teach her fourth- through eighth-grade music students at her first teaching job in Kansas City, Mo.

But now, Highfill, a music teacher at Nieman Elementary School, has taken her lesson to the masses. It’s the subject of a chapter in the book, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Diversity in the Classroom.”

Highfill is hopeful the story will make similar situations easier for other young teachers in diverse school settings.

The book is a collection of essays from educators across the country dealing with issues such as diversity to behavior. It includes study questions in the back for teachers and professors, Highfill said.

After graduating from Oberlin College with a bachelor’s degree in music education, Megan began her first teaching job in Kansas City, Mo., at a Title I school, with a high population of Spanish-speaking students.

“It was a continuous learning experience for me to have these students,” she said. “That was not my experience from middle and high school, the diversity.”

Highfill’s chapter, called “Anthem,” focuses on what it means to be an American and how to convey that message to students of many nationalities and faiths.

It was just two months into her teaching career when her lesson on the “Star Spangled Banner” began.

“It was challenging,” she said of the time. “The story focuses on a student that didn’t speak much English and wasn’t born here. It turned a simple lesson into something that was controversial and productive.”

The lesson brought about a great conversation with fourth- through eighth-grade students, Highfill said.

“We talked about what it is to be American and why patriotism is a choice, and why that’s a beautiful thing in this country,” she said.

When the opportunity presented itself to share her unique experience, Highfill only had a little hesitation.

“I saw a Facebook ad looking for proposals on diversity in the classroom,” she said. “I didn’t take it seriously at first but after looking at the link I decided to send in a proposal.”

After submitting her proposal, Highfill was notified that her essay would be a part of the book. This June, almost a year after her proposal was accepted, the book was published.

“I want to challenge our concept of patriotism and being an American,” she said. “I want to challenge people to think of a child who wasn’t born here but their life is here. To label them as not American is unfair.”

Now in her third year teaching at Nieman Elementary in Shawnee, Highfill still revels in the diversity of students.

“I’m at home with diversity,” she said. “When it’s not there I’m uncomfortable.”

Highfill said she’d take any opportunity to tell her experiences in the classroom.

“It’s a better way for me to communicate,” she said. “I love my job and I love my students and I wish people would stop and think of them instead of the political mess that is going on.”

While Highfill only stayed in the Kansas City, Mo., school for just under a year, the lesson will stay with her for a lifetime.

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