I’ve been a teacher for awhile now. I truly love all students. I can relate to many of our students for various reasons. Whether it is a student that has failed a class, a student that has a broken home, or one that is uncertain about their abilities, I can almost always relate to them.
I believe that students require nurturing in the classroom. Educators fail to realize what the school house afforded this concept to many of us. I had teachers that pushed me by discipling me. I had that teacher/ coach that would effortlessly pick me up for practice, drop me off at home after practice, and sometimes take me to grab food. I had a band director that helped me complete a college application. I had an AVID teacher praise me for my organization and because I was the first senior that year to get accepted to a college. Such instances are at the forefront of my mind and obviously reasons why I am successful in my teaching.
I do not have just one thing that I do in the classroom that allows me to reach all students. I can’t say that I am even consistent. I pay close attention to my students. I listen to them. I allow them to feel me out. This is a horrible analogy, but similar to a dog. Just hear me out! Don’t judge me...The other day we dropped our dog off at boarding. We like this facility because it’s clean and most importantly the animals are not caged the entire time. Our dog, Spike likes the facility, too. He is excited as we walk in, but when they open the cage for him to enter to play with all of the dogs (whether it’s five or ten) they all meet him at the gate. They smell him. They back him into a corner. They do this while half wagging their tails. This recent time I watched. They did it for awhile and he ran away and they followed. He showed how courageous he was by being unmoveable, but, still they sniffed and sniffed and sniffed. They sniffed every part of him. As bad as this analogy is, this is what our students do. I’ve taught at-risk and sadly at-risk always means our black and brown children. Our at-risk are usually those students that do not look like mainstream Americans. Our at-risk are usually those that come from housing communities where families are broken, people are in jail, parents are on drugs, they are in foster care, or cared for by other family members. At-risk usually means that have been molested or they are in gangs. At-risk might mean they might have been mentally or physically or emotionally or even sexually abused. At-risk means that mainstream Americans can’t seem to understand and they think they are emphatic, but many times they are judgmental. This is one reason why it has been important for me to learn my students and allow them to “sniff” me and see that I am a genuine person and I want the best.
I’ve written letters, visited parents, allowed them to contact me about personal situations, and things that I think are important for me to do as a nurturer. I am extremely unorthodox, but I believe I am what the system needs.
This leads me to the issue that I see in education. I see it now and I saw it when I was a student in the secondary arena. Whether an orange or purple or black or white student, we need teachers that are “real.” Real means those that will open their minds, challenge students, and challenge themselves. Real means not pushing their views on a child, but rather walking into a classroom without judgment or discussing negativity about our students.
Recently I was called to the principals office. Two of my white colleagues filed something or felt the need to have me chastised. They shared I was racist. Their complaint was I said they could not teach black kids one day. I am certain I never said that, but after seeing their teaching styles and learning that they are educators who teach the same thing year after year, I now see that statement might actually stand true. I didn’t say it, but maybe I should have. I remember what I said. I said that students; particularly our black males, need books that they can relate to. Now, if this was taken out of context (the irony of how subjective words and phrases can be for English teachers) than I guess that is what they heard.
The issue became bigger for them when I introduced them to “coon cooking” and the 2008 symbolic burning of the word “nigger“ by the NAACP. Too often teachers show how sensitive they are about topics, but they don’t take such things into consideration when they continue to teach the same thing over and over while leaving out those kids who will not relate.
I stopped my students from reading the book “Huckleberry Finn” after chapter 9, because I felt we should look at those stories of enslaved African Americans and understand what was going on with people that looked like the character Jim. I followed my standards and I wrote great lessons l, and supplemented the text with pieces from The Library of Congress. I attempted to share with my white colleagues, but they were too concerned about where I retrieved my degrees and what students would never get into college. I tried to share my knowledge, but it came out as if I was “dropping all of my credentials“ making others uncomfortable. The others were those that are “mainstream.” The others are those that make our black and brown kids feel uncomfortable by reading Huck Finn without truly embracing their culture or taking into consideration that they are only four generations away from slavery and maybe only two from Brown versus Board of Education. But instead of them finding a way to make the students comfortable, instead they take time to file a grievance against me and call me racist. This is because of fear. The fear of what degrees I have that might allow a Black teacher to know a bit more than someone of the mainstream race.
I was unafraid of the grievance, but I did have a slight moment in my principals office after the meeting. They couldn’t see that this was a good time for us to introduce my American Literature class to real topics in American history. For me, I stopped the book, because I watched my white males snicker every time we came to the word nigger, while watching the very few black faces look confused and uncomfortable. Although we did a pre-reading research project to ensure the kids knew about that time era, as the educator I was able to relate to some of those kids and this is what educators must realize about the classroom. My colleague compared the level being uncomfortable to that of the word “faggot.” I disagree wholly. Slavery is different and there will never be a comparison.
Many educators are so focused on trying to pour their knowledge and their ideologies down the throats of our kids. They are so focused on comparing or talking about the home life of the kids instead of seeing such instances as times that we can relate and teach new material! We can open up the kids of all of our children, and even learn lessons from them. This is when educators should learn lessons to help students with the soft skills they will need for life. But much of this is because educators feel that they know everything. They do not feel that reciprocation of learning should be a norm in the classroom, while allowing the classroom to be a place for ALL to learn.
As an educator today take the time to allow the students to open your mind, while you are opening their mind too!