Years in Education: 20+
Black + White
Former K-12 Teacher
Current Hip Hop, Sports Culture, and Intercultural Communications Professor
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: One commonality I share with my students is the relationship of learning that flows freely between us.
The student-teacher dynamic is sometimes viewed through a didactic, one-way lens which suggests classroom learning runs in a single direction: from teacher to student.
As someone who has literally taught all levels from kindergarten to graduate school over the course of 25 years in the field, I can say without hesitation that I’ve learned far more from those students than they could have ever learned from me.
Being a black male kindergarten teacher in the 1990s, I may have seemed like a unicorn to public schools, but at Zion Preparatory Academy I was just one of a number of African American men working in K-5 classrooms. Lessons from both the personal and pedagogic relationships with those 5 and 6 year-olds, which included the intentional building of “academic self-esteem,” have helped make me the teacher I am today.
Another thing we have in common is a desired outcome of success. While I have seen very few, if any, students who truly did not want to be successful, I have come across a number of teachers who, either by theory or practice, express expectations and a professional cynicism which amounts to removing the wings from an airplane then expecting it to fly.
The argument that these negative attitudes on the part of the teacher can be subconscious does not minimize the damage done, and in fact only emphasizes the need to practice rigorous and regular professional introspection. A genuine expectation of success, even if it is not achieved by all, still allows students to operate within a context of authentic teacher investment.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes, it does. The follow-up question is: What are those things? For example, much has been made about the relatively low numbers of teachers of color in the United States. However, I’ve seen firsthand that being a person of color is not an automatic qualifier to be an effective teacher for students of color. On the flip side, I have also witnessed proof that being white does not automatically disqualify one from effectively educating students of color. In all cases it is the educational professional’s responsibility to initiate and nurture ties with students, which then can provide the proper foundation for relationship scaffolding.
Daudi Abe is a Seattle-based professor, writer, and historian who has taught and written about culture, race, gender, education, communication, hip-hop, and sports for over 20 years. He has appeared on national media such as MSNBC and The Tavis Smiley Show. His forthcoming book is Emerald Street: A History of Hip-Hop in Seattle. Learn more about Dr. Abe at drdaudiabe.com.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.