Years in Education: 7-10
Middle and High School English Language Arts Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I have a lot in common with my students. This is a wealthy school district in a suburb; it is majority white, with a sizable Asian-American community, and other minority and immigrant groups spread around, too.
I grew up in a middle-class suburb of San Francisco, but went to high school in a more affluent, Bellevue-like city. Conspicuous consumption was all around me; most students got a car when they could drive. The majority of my peers expected to graduate from high school and continue to a four-year university. My high school was competitive and students took themselves seriously.
Because I lived in a different, less-affluent city, however, I was slightly out of place at my high school. I think I identify with a lot of my current students in that I always feared - and still do, to a certain extent - being exposed as an imposter.
I think a lot of students - not necessarily because of wealth, but rather because of self-image - feel like imposters some of the time. You make sure to talk a good game and put up the right front so that you belong, but you don't always believe that you do.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: I am supposed to say that it does matter.
I know that students need to see themselves reflected in the people who have power over them. I know that students need to feel a connection and that a connection is certainly easier, quicker, and more apparent if there is ready empathy.
But I am going to boldly say that having things in common with my students doesn't matter. What does matter is that I am open. A teacher should listen, observe, and have compassion. A teacher should know where she comes from and understand her perspective as she seeks to comprehend her students. Empathy is great. Understanding because I have been there is valuable.
Does it matter? Yes. But, implicit in that word is that is is necessary, and to that I say No. What really matters is that I am open to - that I strive for and work toward - a real connection with my students. I want to know them. I grow to love them. That matters. That is necessary.
Jen is a middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. Follow her on Twitter @JenASPiper.