Why creating inclusive classrooms matters

Editor’s note: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Google.org is working with DonorsChoose to continue their support for more inclusive classrooms through the #ISeeMe campaign. Mr. Andy Yung, a classroom teacher from New York City, shares the power of affirming identities in his classroom.

I grew up in Flushing, New York — the same community in Queens where I now teach. I’m honored and grateful to teach students who remind me of my younger self and to interact with their parents who remind me of my own. Because of our shared lived experiences, I identify with my students and their families in a way that is not easily learned. 

As a student, I often felt most connected to the teachers who looked like me and understood my background. But many students never have that experience: less than 10% of New York City’s teachers are men of color, and Asian men represent just 1.5% of New York City’s teachers. Trends are similar nationwide, with less than 2% of US teachers identifying as Asian

When my students see characters who look like us in the books we read, their faces light up because the experiences portrayed reflect their own. But creating these opportunities isn’t easy: in 2015, just 3.3% of children’s books published included Asians, and there is no standard curriculum that teaches Asian American history.

That’s why I’m excited to see Google.org team up with DonorsChoose to match donations for inclusive classroom projects through the #ISeeMe campaign — and there’s even an additional donation match for projects from male educators of color like me. #ISeeMe has already helped more than 25,000 educators — including me — fund inclusive classroom projects. 

The funding helped me fill my classroom library with books that serve as both windows and mirrors: windows to observe other people and cultures, and mirrors that reflect and validate our own experiences. When my students see themselves in our reading materials, they know that they belong, what they can aspire to be, and they see that they can use their voices to share their own powerful stories.