Years in Education: 11-15
High School English Language Arts Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: In a meeting once, a fellow educator lumped kids from single parent homes into one stereotype of dysfunction. I surprised that individual when I said I was from a single parent home.
We can not lower our expectations of students because of their circumstances. If anything we have to be the voice that says, "Yes, if you want to, you can."
I was that student living with grandparents for awhile. My parents divorced during the summer between 7th and 8th grade. This meant moving in with my grandparents for a year while my mom began substitute teaching and looking for a permanent teaching position--she had just finished her elementary education degree as an adult student.
It also meant going from a precarious financial situation to situational poverty. I knew we did not have a lot of money before, but after my parents divorced we were signed up for free lunch, and I'm sure receiving other forms of government assistance. Although a working single-parent, I cannot remember my mom missing a volleyball or softball game.
This move also meant going from the suburbs of the west side of Washington to the forests of northeast Washington and experiencing a type of culture shock. It was not the first time I had moved, but it was the first move to a rural setting. Living in both suburban and rural settings has given me a unique perspective on the challenges facing both types of students.
It seems small, but my interest in sports has also been important in the classroom, especially for my male students. Talking about the latest scores, mostly the NFL (Go Seahawks!) and college basketball (Go Zags!), has been an ice breaker with more than one student. I try to share this interest and others in order to build a shared sense of community and belonging.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Understanding the reality of our students' lives is the foundation for building relationships and positive interactions. We construct the ideas of the world around us based on our experiences and make assumptions accordingly. If we have no exposure to those circumstances, it is difficult to help students succeed.
All too often I have heard teachers assume a student just needs to make up their mind to work harder. While students in certain situations do have to work harder to over come their circumstances, it cannot be done by will power alone. This guidance must be founded in understanding and empathy. We cannot possibly understand all circumstances, but if a staff as a whole is diverse, there is a voice for every student.
Jennifer is a 2017 Washington State Teacher Leader. She has six preps this year. To find out how she's keeping it all organized, follow her CorelaborateWA.org blog and find her on Twitter @gozags2001.