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Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds

Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms

By Sonia Nieto

Sonia found and interviewed 22 teachers of varying backgrounds and school settings who help answer the question of what effective, culturally responsive teaching looks like in the real world. Their stories will inspire and motivate you to find joy in teaching students of diverse background.

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“While no check-list of attitudes, dispositions, behaviors, or actions can define what thriving teachers look like, the teachers interviewed here give us powerful examples of what it takes to face their profession with courage, their content with enthusiasm, and their students with love.”
—Sonia Nieto

 One in four public school students in the U.S. now speaks a language other than English at home, and the number of emergent bilingual and immigrant children in our schools continues to grow daily.  What does it mean to be a teacher today, when students are more diverse in language, culture, race, and social class than ever before?   What does it take to thrive, when the demands of teaching have never been greater? Sonia Nieto found and interviewed 22 teachers of varying backgrounds and school settings who help answer the question of what effective, culturally responsive teaching looks like in the real world.   Their stories of success, failure, frustration and hope will resonate with everyone who has struggled to meet the needs of diverse students in our current sociopolitical context. 

 Nieto explores the common themes that arose throughout the interviews, of teaching with a social justice perspective, the moral dimensions of teaching, advocating for students, and challenging the status quo.  She raises a persuasive argument that teaching is an ethical endeavor, that we must honor students’ identities and believe in their futures, and that ultimately teaching is an act of love.  The stories of Nieto’s passionate teachers will inspire and motivate you to find joy in teaching students of diverse backgrounds.

Read a sample chapter!

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Part I:  Recognizing the Current Context of Public Education
Ch. 1: Surviving in Today's Schools: Taking Stock of Where We Are
Ch. 2: Professional Development: Preparing for the Real World

Part II: Profiles of Thriving Teachers
Ch. 3: It's Whom You Teach, Not Just What You Teach
Ch. 4: "If I Haven't Taught Them How to be Good People, That's Failure": Teachers' Perspectives on the Moral Dimensions of Teaching
Ch. 5: The Quest for Knowledge: Teacher Learning In and Out of the Classroom
Ch. 6: "I Hope I Can Become That Teacher": Teaching That Honors Language and Culture
Ch. 7: Teaching to Nurture Students' Dreams
Ch. 8: Teaching as Social Justice and Advocacy

Part III: Lessons Learned
Ch. 9: Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: What Does It Take?
Ch. 10: From Dispositions to Actions: Becoming Culturally Responsive Teachers
Ch. 11: From Surviving to Thriving: The Role of Hope in Teaching



"Sonia Nieto has done it again. Another discerning work on the challenges teachers face when they confront the status quo, and the joy they find in working with  young people who are often viewed as "the other" by the mainstream of society. The book presents a grim view of the mindless uniformity imposed upon our schools by standardized curricula. But the voices of the teachers leave us with a sense of hope that, if we cannot change the world, each of us can at least change a piece of it for children we respect and love."

—Jonathan Kozol

“Sonia Nieto reminds us in this beautifully written book that powerful instruction is happening all around us and that we need to look to our classrooms and our thriving teachers for guidance and direction. While honoring the voices of practicing educators, Nieto offers an inspiring and informative model of humane, engaging, and socially just teaching for today’s diverse classrooms. I came away feeling more energized and committed than ever to do better for our children.”

—Ernest Morrell, Director, Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) and President-elect, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

"Epitomizing culturally responsive teaching, Sonia Nieto sheds light on the ways many educators across the country effectively teach students of diverse backgrounds.

--Language Arts

“In a political context where teachers' work gets systematically derogated and demonized, this text is a refreshing and stirring call to prospective and actual teachers everywhere to a renewed understanding of teaching as a thoroughly ethical, political, humanistic, and social  justice endeavor. Sonia Nieto's clear, informative, and courageous voice inspires the thought that culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy is that rock upon which a loving, caring and effective practice can be built. Kudos for immensely important work at a critical time in our nation's history.

—Angela Valenzuela, Professor, University of Texas College of Education and author of Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring

“In her remarkable new book, Sonia Nieto shares insightful research, based on teachers’ experiences, which she then uses to critique educational reforms from outside.  She highlights a broad range of teachers who all feel relentless outside pressure, but still find ways to thrive with a joyful pedagogy based on ‘realism and hope.’”

Joan Wink, as reviewed in Multicultural Perspectives

"Sonia Nieto's book is a tremendous tribute to teachers everywhere who instruct students of different backgrounds.  This insightful expose of elementary and secondary instructor interviews provides an authentic and powerful gaze into the sometimes fulfilling highs and disheartening lows of classroom instruction.  Finding Joy is an inspiring must-read for teachers, administrators, policy makers, parents, and students alike!"

--International Journal of Multicultural Education

"At a moment in history when it's so easy for educators to become discouraged, this volume offers wisdom and hope grounded in the day-to-day reality of school life."

--Rethinking Schools