Will be the first in her family to graduate from college
Q: What do you have in common with your teachers?
On the surface, I’ve been lucky.
I have the privilege of being white and identifying as heterosexual. I am also a woman, and so in an educational setting, I have had the privilege of connecting with most of my teachers who have also been white and female.
I can also connect with my teachers because I know we both appreciate a good education. I’ve always enjoyed working hard and putting forth my best effort. I struggle, fail, but then succeed.
To me, school has been everything. Throughout high school and continuing into university life, I have dedicated myself to my school work and what I felt being a “good” student meant. I was in the top 5% of my high school graduating class, and I have been on the Dean’s List every quarter at the University of Washington. For me, these accomplishments weren’t just about a title, but instead were my gateway to a promising future.
In the same way that I have prioritized my education, I believe that a lot of teachers have done the same, as they have chosen school as their career, which is a huge aspect of their lives.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
I grew up as a low income student raised by a single mom in a predominantly high income community of two-parent households.
Any information on low-income assistance was something that my mother and I had to find for ourselves. This was true when it came to AP testing fees for my high school classes.
I was in a lot of AP classes and wanted to take the tests as I knew this may help me obtain college credits in the future, but every test cost $90. $90?! That was too much for my single mother to afford, especially with multiple AP tests every year. My mom looked into it and found out there was a low-income option that would make the tests affordable for my family. This was great until I found out this information was not provided by my teachers.
In class, I went up to my AP Government teacher very quietly and asked if I could have a low-income form for the AP test. He didn’t give the response I was expecting. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He looked at me confused as if he was questioning if what I had just asked him was real.
He said, “Oh? You need the form for low-income support on the test?” His voice was louder than I had wanted. I could tell from the eyes of my classmates that a lot of them had heard him. The embarrassment set in.
“Oh, umm okay well...I actually don’t have those because I don’t normally have to hand them out. You’ll have to go to the office.”
As if I wasn’t already feeling alone in asking for this form, he just confirmed that I was indeed alone. Apparently, I was one of the only students he had ever encountered that needed the form.
I went to the office and asked for the form. The lady at the front desk laughed at me. Yes, laughed. She then pointed at a basket filled with papers and said nothing.
Then the Athletic Director (who had nothing to do with the situation) felt the need to pipe in. He suspiciously asked me how I would possibly need the form for low-income students if I was able to participate in cheerleading.
Not that it was any of his business, but I explained that I actually was very fortunate to have a family member that had offered to help me continue in this extremely expensive sport. He didn’t respond and walked away with a smug grin on his face.
On that day “connection” was the last thing I felt with the adults I had encountered. I felt alone, embarrassed, and ashamed for something I couldn’t control. No student should ever have to feel that way, which is exactly why having things in common with our teachers is so important.
The role of connection between our students and educators is one that we must place more value on. For students, connection is what makes us feel safe, accepted, and validated. It’s what developing humans need.
If even one of those adults had been empathetic that day, I wouldn’t have had to feel ashamed for growing up with a single mom in a low-income household. I would’ve felt accepted for who I was and everything I had been through to get to where I was that day.
In our education system, it’s not only important that teachers connect with their students, but that all adults in our education system better support kids who are going through life experiences they themselves might not have experienced.
We are thrilled to share that Hailey is ROLL CALL's 2020-21 intern! She is in her final undergraduate year at the University of Washington, and she is also a tutor with the Riverways Education Partnership (formerly The Pipeline Project) serving rural and tribal K-12 students. Connect with her on Instagram @haileybrumley.
Photo (c) 2020 Jen Kistner
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.