I mentioned I'm teaching a graduate class of 11 current or future teachers. 10 out of 11 of the teachers teach in predominantly African-American and Hispanic schools. The topic of my class the other night was Stereotyping. As I think through the agendas for each evening, I always think about the stories kids' and parents' have told me through the years. Many of their stories address underlying racism and assumptions that often affect their educational decisions in life. Their experiences are something people need to listen to and really hear--especially teachers who are teaching in these schools.
Because I've seen what happens in the schools I've been in--teachers cussing at kids, hitting kids, encouraging kids to go into the Army because they think that's all the kid will be able to do in life, etc.--I want people (especially teaches) to hear from the people on the receiving end. What are they thinking and feeling when all of this happens? Since I now have the opportunity to connect the voices of the community with the educators, I thought I would do just that. I asked Nazareth, Gary, Whitney, and Tiffany to speak to my class. I was a little hesitant simply because I didn't want to make the assumption that the teachers in my class don't already have quality relationships with their students. However, the result was amazing!
Nazareth, Gary, Whitney, and Tiffany expressed to the group of teachers that their worst experiences and their least favorite teachers were the ones that didn't do anything. They didn't make an effort to teach them and they didn't bother to expect anything from them. They told stories of teachers who didn't care if they skipped class, which they eagerly participated in, but they wished the teacher would've held them accountable and taught them something instead. Their words of advice to the teachers was, "Get to know your kids on a personal level. Ask about them." Build a relationship. Love us even when we're bad. Encourage us despite our attitudes. Help us be successful. Only one of the four had a parent who was willing to be involved in his daughter's education. The other three had parents who attended discipline meetings...mainly because that's the only time they were called...but did not get involved any other way. Despite the lack of parental involvement, the four continued to say, "Build a relationship with us! Our parents probably won't get involved. Talk to us!"
The teachers responded so positively! They listened intently to each of their stories and they asked questions. They seemed to genuinely want to understand the perspective of a student. They seemed a little surprised at how adamant the four speakers were about wanting expectations, encouragement, and relationships. After the speakers left, one of the teachers asked, "Can you bring in some parents, too?" I'm going to work to do that. Teachers need to hear from the students. They need to hear from the families. Hopefully, this class will lead the teachers to begin to get to know the families at their school instead of just relying on the people I bring in.
It always amazes me what can happen when you connect people. The teachers genuinely wanted to hear and understand the perspective of a student. The students (and families) want the teachers to hear them. But, for some reason, we don't work toward that end. We judge what we see and what we hear from others instead of getting to know the other side. The fact that we're different...racially, culturally, socioeconomically, where we live, where we work...should make us more, instead of less, eager to get to know each other. The benefits are more valuable than we realize.