Identity in the 21st Century Classroom

Over the summer, I decided to go back to school to pursue my Master’s degree. Apparently, I despise “down time” (what does that even mean?), therefore, I have plunged headfirst back into the world of academia. Throughout my initial coursework, I read several articles that spoke to me about teacher identity. One of the most provocative quotes that came up during my research regarding this topic came from George RR Martin who says “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you. Needless to say, my world has been flipped upside down, and it is as if I am looking inside myself for the first time in 30+ years.


As adults, WE [should] know that we see the world through our perspective. Our perspective has been influenced by multiple factors beyond our family home life. Too often, we are told to simply “get over it”, or my personal favorite, “happiness is a choice.” However, these phrases invalidate our experiences and can cause resentment and painful compliance or indifference in certain situations.

So I thought about what this means for kids. 200-2

Kids are expected to navigate their own identities on their own with little to no guidance from adults. Afterall, if empathy isn’t in the standards, as educators, we figure out a way to make it work, right? I teach 9th and 10th graders who are figuring out ways to navigate the world around them-a perfect segway into discovering what they identify with and how that shapes their perspectives.

Identity Collage

61x5DEPXYAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_In Sara K. Ahmed’s book Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension she devotes an entire chapter on coaching students to navigate through what identity means in terms of society, community, and for their personal lives. One of her lessons includes having students create their own identity collage. Here is how I adapted this in my classroom:


  1. Brainstorm a list of identifiers on the board. (i.e., Gender, Race, Personality, etc.)
  2. Have students select their most salient identities. I had student select a minimum of 5, but they could choose more if they wished.
  3. Students created thesis statements about identity, then composed a collage that included images that connected to their selected identifiers.
  4. Students then reflected on their thesis statements and how their identities have shaped how they see the world.

Here is a copy of the assignment

Here is how I modeled it in class

Our identity collages will be displayed in our classroom to serve as a reminder that our personal experiences and identities have a profound influence in who we are and what we bring to the table. It is my hope to build a community of tolerance, respect, empathy, and hope in my classroom by encouraging students to own who they are and become aware of how their identities impact them everyday.

What are some other ways that you advocate for your students? Do you have other ways of building community or addressing concepts like social justice in your classroom?


Gena Mendoza teaches High School English in San Antonio, Texas. Her most salient identities include female, Chicana, feminist, mother, wife, educator, dog mom, and self-proclaimed advocate for social justice and equality. In between managing her career and grad school, she enjoys making paper flowers and spending quality time with her family. She invites you to connect with her on Twitter at @Mrs_Mendoza3.



2 thoughts on “Identity in the 21st Century Classroom

  1. […] about other things that once felt easy but were now hard, like my seemingly voiceless writing identity. My writing just didn’t sing anymore; it felt blah. It wasn’t fun to do. I felt […]


  2. Amy Rasmussen October 10, 2018 at 9:06 pm Reply

    Such a vital part in building community within our classrooms. We have to not only know who our students are as individuals, but they must know themselves in order to share their beliefs and ideas authentically with others. Fantastic post, Gena. I think the collage would also be a great way to have students decorate their writers’ notebooks.


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