Years in Education: 11--15
First in Family to Graduate From College
English Language Development & AVID High School Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: Like my English Language Learner students, I worked hard in school to learn another language, Spanish, which helps me to connect not only with their language-related struggles, but also allows me to better form relationships with their families and encourage their primary language development.
Travel has also enabled some surprising commonalities. For the past eleven years, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Asia during my breaks, so in addition to being familiar with some of my students' home towns, I know the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, with little knowledge of the language, ability to communicate with others, and the general discomfort of being in a completely unfamiliar setting. This helps me relate to and empathize with newcomer students who are often feeling the same way within a week to a few months after moving to the United States.
Another thing I have in common with several of my students is that I was the first in my family to graduate from college. While I was extremely fortunate that my parents were overall very supportive of me throughout high school, they were ill-equipped to help me navigate the world of college applications and the FAFSA. I did not have a close relationship with a guidance counselor or teacher to help me with the complexities of applications, moving away, and enrolling in college, but in retrospect, I wish I had. I hope to relate that experience to my students who may be too afraid to ask questions.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes, I believe that it is important that students and teachers share commonalities. I feel that it is extremely impactful for students to see their reflection in and have shared experiences with their teachers. That being said, there are many things a teacher can do to cultivate authentic relationships and establish mutual respect and trust.
I also believe that there is much to be learned from a diversity of experiences and perspectives, and frankly, learning from and about my students has made me a better person. That being said: has it been as beneficial for them to learn about my experience as a white woman? I'm not so sure.
Our teacher education programs need to actively recruit more diverse candidates to effectively represent our student population. Our students need to make those connections through better representation in education and a host of other fields to better help them aspire to be whatever it is they choose to be.
Tiffany is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. To find out more about how Tiffany's Innovation Project is connecting classrooms around the world, follow her on Twitter @BadgerEDHS.