Years in Education: 11-15
High School English and Theory of Knowledge Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: When it comes to the external or the obvious identity markers, not a tremendous amount because I teach in a diverse school that is 60% students of color from a variety of cultures, which means that most students do not match my identity--white, US born, heterosexual, middle-class, cis-gender male. However, we share a common curiosity and wonder about the world we live in, and I have learned way more from them than I could ever teach. The strongest bond is that we are learners, and furthermore, we are both teachers.
I have worked at my current school for twelve years. When I started about 70% of students were white and 30% non-white. The staff in the building was 95% white. Today, we are a rich tapestry of ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and many more identities that makes going to work a delight. It has made me a better teacher to learn from such a rich multitude of lived experience. Although the student body has changed rapidly, the staff in the building is still 95% white.
I grew up in a suburb of Dallas, TX and went to a very homogenous school where over 95% of the teachers shared many of my identity markers. I saw many examples of teachers that look like me. My students do not see that, and I believe it is the responsibility of me and my colleagues to provide a curriculum that brings in many voices not just the ones we are familiar with. Additionally, we have a community of successful alumni in the area that have amazing stories that need to be shared.
As a TED-Ed Innovative Educator, I have partnered up with a former student to create a venue to support that, and we are calling it The Barbershop of Ideas. Akeem is a talented artist who opened his own barbershop two years ago, and it is the place to be in our community. The purpose of the venue will be showcase examples of success from our community by bringing together alumni, community members, and current students.
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes: There needs to be trust for learning to occur and, and trust develops through an authentic relationship. It is difficult for students and adults to start building that relationship when they do not have as much in common. A great teacher does everything he or she can do to find the way to make the connection to have something in common.
No: As long as both have empathy for the other person's lived experience because that can be the most powerful thing we have in common. I see that as my main responsibility as a teacher- developing and cultivating empathy by modeling what that looks like and living it through my actions. And when I fail, which I inevitably do, I admit that I made a mistake and use that as a way to continue to build that relationship.
Tim is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. For his Innovation Project he is creating a Barbershop of Ideas where students are having authentic conversations about their ideas and values in a safe space. Follow Tim on Twitter @timleistikow.
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.