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Confronting Issues of Race and Class in the ESL Classroom

Raquel C. Sanchez offers useful readings and electronic resources on sociocultural issues that K-12 teachers are likely to confront in the U.S. ESL classroom. See Julie Whitlow's Out of the Box article, "Stranded on the Roof," Essential Teacher, September 2006, pp. 18-21.

Confronting sensitive issues like race and social class can be difficult in any classroom, and the cultural diversity of ESL classrooms in the U.S. increases the complexity of the teacher's tasks. Often the TESOL professionals who teach these classes are native speakers of a standard variety of English who come from middle-class backgrounds. In some cases, the salience of ethnicity, race, and class issues to their teaching may not be readily apparent to the teacher. To prepare a diverse student population to participate fully in a multicultural society, ESL teachers in the United States must educate themselves about past and present sociocultural conflicts in their country.

Understand and Acknowledge the Issues

As English language learners become acculturated to schooling in the United States, they will inevitably take note of and begin to question the many examples of social inequality that they witness in their daily lives. To confront these issues credibly, teachers must be well versed in how race, culture, class, and gender intersect within U.S. society and how this intersection of factors can influence the learning process.

The best introduction to these sociopolitical issues can be found under the broad rubric of theory and research on multicultural education. The best works in this area of study directly address these issues in light of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the ESL classroom. Other resources address the issues of race, class, or gender explicitly, while mentioning language issues only in passing.

Below are some useful readings and electronic resources for K-12 teachers of English language learners in the United States. This preliminary bibliography can serve as a starting point for inquiry into the sociocultural issues that teachers are likely to confront in the ESL classroom.

Multicultural Education

Delpit, L. 1995. Other people's children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: The New Press.

Dilg, M. 1999. Teaching and learning through multicultural education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. R. 1999. We can't teach what we don't know: White teachers, multiracial schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jordan Irvine, J. 2003. Educating teachers for diversity: Seeing with a cultural eye. New York: Teachers College Press.

Nieto. S. 1999. The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Saville-Troike, M. 1978. A guide to culture in the classroom. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Antiracist Teaching

Bolgatz, J. 2005. Talking race in the classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence. 2002. Resources on race relations: Resources for schools to address issues of race/ethnic relations. Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.

Derman-Sparks, L., and C. Brunson Phillips. 1997. Teaching/learning anti-racism. New York: Teachers College Press.

Green, S., and A. Abt-Perkins. 2003. Making race visible: Literacy research for cultural understanding. New York: Teachers College Press.

Perry, M. 2000. Walking the color line: The art and practice of anti-racist teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Shultz, K. 2003. Listening: A framework for teaching across differences. New York: Teachers College Press.

Trumbull, E., C. Rothstein-Fisch, and P. M. Greenfield. 2000. Bridging cultures in our schools: New approaches that work. San Francisco: WestEd.

Sociocultural Issues and Second Language Teaching

Ballenger, C. 1998. Teaching other people's children: Literacy and learning in a bilingual classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kubota,, R., K. Bashir-Ali, S. Canagarajah, L. Kamhi-Stein, E. Lee, and H. Shin. 2005. Race and (non)nativeness in English language teaching: A brief report. NNEST Newsletter 7(2). 

Temple Adger, C. 2004. Issues and implications of English dialects for teaching English as a second language (part 1 of 3). TESOL Professional Papers No. 3.

Young, M. 2006. Issues of race and ethnicity in basic writing.

Raquel C. Sanchez (, whose current research focuses on professional development for teachers of English language learners, received her doctorate in educational linguistics from Stanford University, in the United States.

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