Years in Education: 11-15
First in Family to Graduate From College
Library Media, Technology, and Language Arts Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: As a student growing up on the North Shore of Boston, MA, I managed to progress through school with a minimum of interest and engagement.
Neither sufficiently advanced to be flagged as “gifted”, nor challenged enough to require individualized support, I floated straight through that bucolic center passage of mediocrity, serenely disengaged from what was transpiring around me.
When the time came to acknowledge the oncoming reality of high school graduation, I had no ambitions to attend college. I had no understanding of what college was, or how it worked.
While my mother had returned to school as an adult to earn her Associate’s Degree, no one in my immediate or extended family had ever graduated with a four-year degree. I simply couldn’t imagine a scenario in which I was a college student because I had no conceptual framework, no schema, for what that even looked like.
Faced with this uncertainty, I fell into assuming that I, too, would graduate high school and find employment somewhere, doing something. And this would no doubt have been the case were it not for a series of serendipitous events that directed me, last minute, to attend college.
In the years since, I’ve become the first member of my family to graduate college with a four-year degree. I later spent time traveling and teaching in Beijing and India and discovered that I have a heart for education. Returning to school in 2004, I earned my Master’s degree in education and have spent the past decade focused on creating an environment that encourages students to assume greater agency in their own education.
I mention this because I honestly believe that my experiences as a middling and disinterested student has provided me with a keen sense of empathy for similar students in my classes and in our community. How can I help to build learning opportunities that encourage engagement and place students in the driver’s seat of their own education? How can I help spark the interest of a student who is struggling to find their place and create a stronger sense of purpose and agency in their school experience?
Q: Does it matter that sudents and teachers have things in common?
A: I think it's essential for students and teachers to find common ground. Teaching is about relationships, and finding shared interests, experiences, and realities help to forge and develop relationships and strengthen empathy between everyone involved. Teachers need to understand and relate to the experiences of their students. Place themselves in the shoes - and the seats! - of their students in order to build relevant lessons that spark engagement.
Conversely, I believe it’s equally important for students to see that the circle of their experiences overlaps with that of their teachers. That there is a commonality, a shared commitment to growth and learning on both sides of the relationship. I read somewhere that ‘Teaching is relational, not transactional’, and that, I believe, sums it up quite nicely!
David is a 2017 TED-Ed Innovative Educator. He is currently connecting students across communiites to work together to document our collective history. Follow David on Twitter @designsaunders.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.