Years in Education: 2--3
Middle and High School Social Studies Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I spent nearly thirty years in the business world, mostly high tech, before I got my teaching certificate.
Although I am old enough to be a grandfather to my students, I can almost always find commonalities with them. We can talk about favorite books and favorite authors, I can talk sports, or cars, or music or theater. Because I am an older teacher, my life experiences are broad and deep. If a student has knowledge about a subject, I can usually dredge something up that relates.
We are all humans. We share life experiences. I know love and loss. I can relate to the tragedies and comedies that my students are going through, as they journey up and down the emotional scale.
That 8th grader going through an emotional breakup with their partner? We could laugh that off as just a silly Romeo and Juliet romance. But they are experiencing it, and it is very real to them in all its horribleness, and it’s exacerbated by their fluctuating hormone levels.
A student identifies as a member of the Queer communities? I can relate: one of my own children came out as gay, then trans, as a teenager.
Another is severely depressed? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt: I literally kicked down locked and bolted doors to save my kid who attempted suicide so many times I lost count.
This one feels isolated because they aren’t part of the in-crowd? So was I.
It’s called life, and we all journey through it without a guidebook. Our students are having to do it without the maturity of an adult and the wisdom of years to help them.
No, I don’t listen to all of the same kinds of music my students love, but I listen to enough that I’ve heard or seen some of their favorites. I keep up on YA literature because it interests me and I personally know many local YA authors (the advantage of being married to one, attending conferences with her, and having common friends!).
As an older, white, cis male I’ve not had to personally deal with the many issues surrounding racism, sexism, queer and religious intolerance, etc., but, I have friends from all kinds of backgrounds who do so on a daily basis. I can empathize with almost anyone.
One of my greatest strengths as a teacher, is building rapport with my students, and I work constantly to continually build a safe community in my classroom. The only way I can do that is to accept my students where they are, wherever that might be, and to listen to their stories. Each student’s voice is essential. Knowing their voice is heard is even more important – and listening more than talking, my friends, is what each of us can do.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: It’s helpful. We certainly don’t have the same experiences that our students have, nor can we ever. However, by listening more than we talk, and by validating their experiences and assuring them that they aren’t alone, more than makes up for the facts that we are not their age, not their race, not their orientation, or gender, or immigration status, or religion, nor all the other factors that make up their story.
In addition to being a teacher, Andrew is also a pirate. Follow him on Twitter @andrewlbond.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.