One Size Does Not Fit All: Diversity in the Classroom (Kaplan Voices Teachers)

Image of One Size Does Not Fit All: Diversity in the Classroom
Release Date: 
June 28, 2010
Kaplan Publishing
Reviewed by: 

One Size Does Not Fit All: Diversity in the Classroom is a collection of essays written by 23 education professionals ranging from teachers (including a National Teacher of the Year finalist) and school psychologists who share some of their most eye-opening experiences in teaching.

Some have only been teaching for a few years, while others are veteran educators with many decades of experience, but what they all have in common are stories about diversity and how individual students have changed their lives and in some cases the way they teach.

There are certain themes to be found in One Size Does Not Fit All, and they include the idea that teachers should be open to learning from their students in order to teach and relate to them. “Never make assumptions about students,” says one student teacher because you do not know what they face outside of the classroom.

These essays show how today’s teachers must stay committed not just to education but to the idea that every child/student—even the difficult ones—has value, and that teachers who cannot do this should seriously consider a change in vocation before they do more harm.

It is also illustrated how the involvement of parents is just as important when it comes to a child’s success, but unfortunately, many kids do not have the luxury of parents who care about them let alone their education. All of these essays also show how each of the educators involved had to think and act either quickly and/or creatively in order to capitalize on a “teachable moment” that not just applied to the situation at hand, but can be used effectively to teach others.

Diversity is not just about ethnic background, but includes socioeconomic, religious, and even sexual orientation. What happens in “the real world” does find itself playing out in classrooms and schoolyards across the nation. Children will absorb what goes on around them even if they are not sure what it means or how it affects them.

“Diamonds in the Rough” is a particularly touching essay where a young girl, still traumatized after seeing her best friend killed in a hit-and-run accident, ends up having a non-threatening discussion with the school therapist about the serious topic on the best places to hide during a drive-by shooting. Educators today must be willing and able to face anything that life throws at them just as much as their students, and many times these students have lives that are far removed from the comfort zone of the teachers who teach them.

Some of the essays cover issues of discrimination and race, but also how the students and teachers dealt with it effectively. “The Ick Factor” and “The Election of 2008” are two examples of how students handled issues from allowing gay-straight alliance student clubs to the topic of same-sex marriages. But ingrained social prejudice can contribute to a student’s decline as demonstrated in the essay “The Invisible Knapsack,” which should serve as a warning to all teachers who are ready to write off a student because they cannot be bothered to try and understand.

A student’s physical and mental ability also plays a part in a diverse classroom. There is a popular British sitcom called “The Thick of It” that satirizes modern British politics and current events, and the central character of the sitcom is a government official. In one episode, this official is forced to make a stand on educational policy when it comes to special needs children. His senior advisor has the strong belief that “inclusion is an illusion,” and he bases this opinion on personal experience with his own child. The official personally feels the same way as his top aide; however, the government wants the official to champion the inclusion of special needs students in the general classroom.

Conversely, in American classrooms, many of the essays in this collection demonstrate how inclusion is not an illusion, and if done correctly, children with special needs meet the challenge and make progress and other children demonstrate their capacity for empathy and support of these students. The essays “The Memorable One” and “The Bodyguard” stand out in this regard.

What book about education would be complete if it did not have exercises? The last sections of the book include “Five Steps to Differentiation” that provides concise tips on how to incorporate and encourage diversity in a learning environment while “reducing the fear that differentiation is impossible to do [. . .] Differentiation is a philosophy—a belief system.” In order for this to work, it is important that everyone believes in the benefits of diversity. “As a teacher, I make a conscious decision to celebrate difference on a daily basis,” says a 14-year teaching veteran.

Also at the back of the book there are several Reading Questions based from each of the essays, once again emphasizing that this book is not about passive learning but is meant to be used as a practical tool, providing practice opportunities about what it preaches.

Considering that this book is a collection of essays, each piece is written in the tone and voice of the individual author. This makes reading the book more personal and allows for anyone to be able to read, comprehend, and take to heart. There is some jargon and an alphabet of acronyms, but they are used sparingly and always in a manner that is easy to understand.

One Size Does Not Fit All: Diversity in the Classroom is a valuable book for education professionals and an accessible book for adults who have children in school and wish to become either more active or more knowledgeable about their child’s education process. Teachers spend more time with kids than their own parents during their formative years, and the knowledge teachers have gained from working with hundreds or thousands of students over the years of their tenure could be just what a parent or guardian needs in order to help reach their child.

Perhaps one of the best ways to sum up is what fifth-grade teacher Jeff Ballam says in his essay: “In twenty-six years of teaching, I’ve learned that some of the best lessons are not in your plan book.”