Representing Student Identities in the Classroom


I’ve recently started a new job….in a middle school. I was one of those teachers that always had the idea that I would hate teaching middle school. All those hormones, changes, attitudes…no thanks.

Well, here I am…2 months in…and loving it. These 7th and 8th graders are amazing. Yes, middle school is an awkward time for students, but these kids are out here every day, owning WHO THEY ARE. I’m blown away at the self-confidence these kids have; frankly, we could all stand to learn a little from them. Most of them have figured out what makes them who they are and they are rockin’ it. We recently had a student, who identifies as a non-binary, volunteer to be interviewed by our school newspaper with the purpose of spreading awareness…and the student body embraced them without hesitation.

I don’t think we give enough credit to middle school students. They get a bad rep…but I’m here to say “don’t sell them short”. This generation is going to do amazing things…

In order to keep supporting them, we as teachers need to be ready to represent their student identities in all we do in order to help them continue to grow into their own person. Here are 6 ways to help you get started:

1. Classroom Library

Look at your collection. Are your books representative of all your students? Inclusive of diverse authors? Inclusive of multicultural themes? Available in multiple languages?

2. Classroom Decor

Look around your classroom walls. Does your physical space make all students feel like they belong? Include culturally and linguistically diverse people and phrases? Promote equality and justice?

3. Curriculum

When planning and teaching, do you advocate for the representation of your students when possible? Include mentor texts from diverse cultures? Use multicultural examples to explain current topics? Address biases in lessons?

4. Parent Connections

When communicating with parents do you know what language they want to be contacted in? Know what technology parents are comfortable communicating with? Have resources to translate communication, if necessary?

5. Classroom Supplies

Do the supplies in your classroom include puzzles, games, and toys that include all genders, races, etc?

6. Guest Speakers

When planning for guest speakers do you include students’ families as speakers and presenters? Discuss societal and global topics? Include a variety of people from the community?

As educators, we want every student to feel valued and welcomed into our classrooms. In a world where there’s already so much divisiveness, we should be doing everything we can to bring unity and acceptance into our schools.

Learn more about Reading with Relevance, our CASEL-Certified resources for grades 2-12 > 

Meet the Savvas Learning Cultural Responsive Learning Advisory Board >

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


About the Author

Liz Janusz

ELA Instructional Coach