First Generation American
Q: What do you have in common with your teachers?
A: Often, I don't have that much in common with my teachers, unfortunately. I respect all of the teachers who have been in my life, and I've been lucky enough to have been in the care of several who were exceptional, but I'd be hard-pressed to name a teacher I could be grouped with in a game of Guess Who without tipping the whole board.
What I share with my teachers is typically what I share with my city: we're WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). In short, traits that don't really do much, on their own, to expand students' horizons or kindle a real desire to sacrifice the wealth we take for granted to spark change in the world that levels the playing field.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes, when--as exceptions to the rule--I find that I share identities with my teacher, I am often also blessed with a mentor who can help me navigate my identities as they did at my age.
Teachers have such a unique, pivotal role in the lives of so many students. Students turn to their teachers for help on so many things, especially as they're stumbling through elementary, middle, and high school and learning to suppress their "unfavorable" identities and express others. This is the period of life where kids come back home upset that their packed lunches are "too Asian", that their way of dressing or acting is somehow "gay" and therefore offensive, or that their economic standing is something to be ashamed of.
Since they seek to discipline us and guide us, our teachers are in effect 6-hour+ daily stand-ins for our parents. And like parents, love them or hate them, they shape our relationships with ourselves immensely. For better or for worse, they hold this sway when we are at our most vulnerable and most desperate to fit in.
Unfortunately, with a primarily cishet female, white, able-bodied, and college-educated pool of teachers, this influence may be for the worse.
This group is the group to shape students ideas of how they or their parents should look and act in an America where white, straight, rich and able-bodied people are still upheld as the golden standard.
This group is so often unhelpful when the really tough questions come up--the ones that make or break a student's desire to succeed in school, the ones that at their core ask "do I belong here?" or "is the way I'm feeling valid?"
This group is ill-equipped to handle transitioning students, first-gen students, students of color, and all others who don't fit neatly into the Guess Who board. This group needs to change, so that students can find mentors to connect with and rely on.
Bae is getting ready to start her second year at Stanford University where she is the Co-Chair of the student group Queer & Asian. See her beautiful and meticulous notes from class on Instagram at @its_the_bae_area.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.