“I am a changemaker at heart.”
Amid complex discussions about race and identity is Angela Birts holding forth a transformative vision of diversity and equality in the classrooms of Silicon Valley.
“My passion for diversity work comes from my personal experiences, from having to negotiate my racial identity in different educational contexts, be successful, and utilize my voice in different spaces,” says Birts, the newest instructor in the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Education Department.
Birts will be teaching Culture and Cultural Diversity, a required course in the TESOL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, certificate program. The course, which begins July 6, meets four Saturdays over seven weeks. It is open to anyone with the desire to grow in their understanding of personal identity—their own as well as others’.
“It takes work for people to be open to change and embrace the different cultural, racial, and ethnic identities and realities that individuals embody in different settings,” Birts says.
Silicon Valley and Classroom Diversity
In Silicon Valley, most teachers are white women. African Americans, Latinos, and other underrepresented groups of students don’t often see themselves at the head of the class or in the curriculum.
“Black students, for example, are still marginalized in schools on the Peninsula,” Birts says. “It calls for educators to reflect on their teaching practices continuously.” Teachers need “to be immersed in a professional environment where they’re learning themselves, to unpack their identities and their biases.”
Birts who recently earned a doctorate in Education from San Jose State University formally launched her own Silicon Valley-based consulting agency last year—Birts Equity and Inclusion Solutions. She sees herself as leveraging diversity to promote equality and inclusion. She worked six years as director of diversity and inclusion at a local private school, not far from where she grew up in the diverse community of East Palo Alto and earned her master’s degree at Stanford University.
A Sense of Belonging
A part of her life’s work is to equip teachers and other educators with the understanding they need to embrace and reflect the different backgrounds of the students that they’re teaching. Schools should be a place where students feel a sense of belonging.
Her own teaching over the past decade continues to evolve. She creates group activities and lessons that highlight students with different backgrounds and uses new technologies and different mediums such as podcasts, YouTube, and TED Talks. Recently Birts was teaching a course on social justice and community on the main campus of UC Santa Cruz that included several international students.
“I had to structure my classroom to reach all of my students,” she says. She researched and consulted with a colleague on how to work with students whose first language wasn’t English and considered the learning curve involved in growing up in another country. “I didn’t want to leave any students behind.”
Learning Culture and Cultural Diversity
In her Culture and Cultural Diversity course, students will explore how their own culture has an impact on teaching and learning. Through historical analysis, poetry, fiction, metaphor, and discussion, they will also learn to apply new teaching principles and explore a community group of their choosing.
Culturally responsive teaching involves empowering students intellectually and socially by recognizing the role of culture and cultural references in all aspects of learning.
“Teachers should be engaging in an ongoing conversation about race and culture in and outside of the classroom,” Birts says. “They should reflect on the implications these concepts have on policy, pedagogy, and curriculum, as well as the role of language in educational contexts.” To do this, they need access to culturally relevant pedagogy “to understand how educators of different cultures and backgrounds shape teaching and learning.”
On her LinkedIn page, Birts embraces her namesake.
“My father named me after Angela Davis because he believed that I would grow up to make a difference in the world. This couldn’t be far from the truth. I am a changemaker at heart.”
Professional Certificates in Education
For more information about the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Education programs, visit our website.