Years in Education: 7-10
Former Middle and High School Math Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I had braces twice when I was their age. I've had a broken arm. I wore glasses until I switched to contacts in 7th grade. I enjoy drawing and crafts. I love every kind of animal and I was always eager to see pictures of my students' pets. We listened to some of the same music and watched some of the same shows on television. My parents divorced when I was in high school. I’d participated in a lot of musical theater.
But there was also a lot I didn’t share with most of my students. For the ones who did relate, I felt these these shared experiences bonded us much more closely than they realized.
During my adolescence, I turned to self-harm and drug use because I didn’t know how better to express my emotions and pain. A suicide attempt my sophomore year in high school resulted in an eight-day stay in a psychiatric ward. I lost most of my friends because I tried to pretend that everything was okay and, quite frankly, I was a terrible friend. I bounced from relationship to relationship seeking the love and acceptance I was aching for. I also struggled with severe body image issues and an eating disorder I am still working to recover from. Since my adolescence, I have had friends enter rehab for alcohol or drug addiction, and over the years some have returned for the fourth or fifth time. I’ve experienced the grief of someone I loved committing suicide.
So many of our youth are burdened too young with emotions and experiences similar to these.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Commonalities may make it easier for a teacher to include themes into their lessons that apply directly to students’ interests or hobbies, or tailor aspects of classroom life to cultures or celebrations that may otherwise be overlooked. It certainly helps to have more of an inside view about what a student has experienced or how they like to spend their time. However, I don’t think that teachers and students need to have things in common. A teacher may have to work harder if they don’t immediately have things in common with students, or to build those experiences that build commonality between people, but I don’t think it’s a requirement from the start.
What is a requirement is the need for teachers to be able to put themselves in their student’s shoes and consider that individual as a whole person, not just as a student in that particular class.
You can’t have something in common with everyone. We need to celebrate the differences in us all, be that a variety of political views, religious beliefs, personal convictions, passions, and fears. We need to be open to learn from each other (especially from our students) on whatever it is that is outside of our comfort zone or familiarity. Being able to appreciate what is inside each and every person is not something that we’re generally raised to do. But it is this quality that absolutely matters in creating an environment that is conducive to learning and growing, be that inside the classroom or outside.
Merrill recently transitioned out of the classroom and is now a Program Manager for a business and consulting firm in Seattle. Connect with her on Twitter @MerrillJeanne.
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.