Years in education: 11-15
Language Arts, History, Drama Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: My students are diverse, however poverty and broken families are the norm in our community. When I was the age that my students are now, I experienced abuse, neglect, a broken family and extreme poverty. This helps me understand their motivations and behaviors. Additionally, for a time as an adult, I was a homeless, unemployed, single parent on assistance. Generational poverty is something my students and I have in common. My path to becoming an academic was unusual and later in life. I know what it is like to be an unmotivated student without future plan. I know that it is never too late to change your path. On a lighter note, I am a big fan of science fiction, fantasy and superheroes, just like many of my students. Also, I promote the arts in our district and community - theatre, visual arts and music. This is a great way to find common ground with students of diverse backgrounds. Finally, I am a horse person, and ours is a rural community. Lots of kids, of all economic backgrounds have large animals to tend. We have pastures, barns, mud and manure in common! Culturally speaking, through marriage I have ties to a family of Mexican heritage. In our small community, it is easy for my Hispanic students to know my husband's father is Mexican, which often makes me an immediate ally.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: It matters- so, so much. Relationships are at the heart of all learning. When students trust and respect you, when they know that you trust and respect them, they are far more likely to buy into the lessons you teach. When you know them, really know them, you can integrate their culture and their interests into the content, personalizing their experience. For me, understanding the lasting effects of poverty and upheaval in a young person's life helps me accept students with all of their rough edges. I can recognize when a big attitude is worn like armor to protect a vulnerable soul from more hurt. I know to give students the time, space and respect they need to keep their pride as they gain the skills to organize the chaos of their lives. They get as much or as little support from as they want. They know I am tough and expect their best, but they also know that they can rely on me to support and comfort them as needed. Most importantly, they trust that I won't give up on them, no matter what.
Lynne is a 2017 Washington State Teacher leader and was a 2012 Regional Teacher of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @LynneOlmos.