Years in Education: 4-6
First in Family to Graduate From College
Former High School International Studies Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I grew up as a first generation college student with a stay-at-home mom and a blue collar father who worked most if not all weekends of the month, to enable my mom to stay home with us and to give us the opportunities my parents wanted us to have in our affluent suburb, where there was rampant elitism.
I use the term "rampant elitism" because despite the fact that my family's class status didn't impede my academic success, from my perspective, the pressure and the boundaries of elitism were almost always present in my life, though often quiet and subtle.
As a student, elitism was always more apparent in my peer group than in my teachers. Group project work sessions were always held at the homes which were more desirable. Certain students always won in our school elections and ran almost all of the school clubs. We had a strong population of students who refused any attire that was not clearly expensive. When it came time to drive, there was a clear divide between who was driving a new vehicle and those of us who sported something older.
My experience as a student prompted me to be highly motivated to want to see a change in how other students experienced school. I know I felt just a shadow of what many other more significantly marginalized groups feel. I always wanted my classroom to be a safe space for students where they felt free to share their honest, even if at times controversial, opinions or feelings.
My work ethic came from watching my family push in every way to offer me and my two younger siblings the best possible options for our futures. My dad was initially an elevator mechanic and eventually an industrial mechanic in the Everett Boeing plant. He switched to working nights instead of the prized day shift that he had held for over 20 years because the overtime was being cut on that shift and he didn't want our quality of life to suffer. He continued to work until was mandated to stop by a doctor due to a late diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. I have no doubt he would have continued to work through his illness even longer without complaint if his brain tumors weren't affecting his balance on the catwalks. Even in the last weeks of his life, he complained that they wouldn't let him fix the crookedly hung paintings in his hospital room.
The drive that my dad fostered in me is guided by my mom's influence. She is the reason I care so much about how people feel. Her gentle pushing and prompting, with firm, high expectations (regardless of my low starting point) inspired my classroom management approach when I was a teacher and led me to have great success with a wide swath of students at the different schools I worked in.
My mother's influence is the reason I am so driven to connect to others. She taught me to value everyone's story and it's part of the reason that I am so passionate in being supportive however I can to every teacher I work with now.
Ultimately, my mother is probably the reason that I am participating in ROLL CALL, despite the fact that I am usually not a big sharer of my feelings or personal life. I am hopeful that someone may glean something from all of my sharing that resonates with them.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: It absolutely matters that teachers and students have things in common. That bond and connection created by common interests motivates drive and motivation that cannot be replicated if a teacher does not take the time to find or create a common interest with a student.
As teachers we are expected to be role models for our students, part of that status requires that we ensure that all students can see part of themselves in us so that we really can function effectively within that role for students.
I am a white woman. That gives me an immediate connection to many of my of my white female students. For my nonwhite and male students, I find I connect with them better over time. Because we lack the obvious outward connections, it takes time creating that connection by sharing and establishing bonds over what experiences or values we both share. For me, sharing my background with my students that includes my love of sitting in the garage tinkering with my dad or baking with my mom for big family potluck gatherings was usually a great opening connection with my students who didn't automatically see themselves as similar to me.
Krystal has recently transitioned out of the classroom to become her school's Instructional Technology Curriculum Leader. Connect with her on Twitter @KJStevie72.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.