To Reach Out Beyond the Classroom
In chapter one of Understanding Youth, authors Nakkula and Toshalis introduce us to the relationship between Ms. Peterson and Antwon. Unfortunately that is a story that I have heard all too often. Also I am ashamed to admit, I have been a part of. I have always taught kids that come from difficult circumstances. When I first started teaching, my ideas of good classroom management were very different from how I run my classroom now. I thought that because I was teaching some pretty tough students, I had to be tough too. I could control a classroom, but was it a place where kids wanted to be? Were they learning anything? Sure, my honors classes were learning but that is the easy class, what about the others? As I look back I think that I was a little afraid of them. My first year at Bain some of my students broke in to a house in the neighborhood, robbed the family, tied them up in the basement and set fire to the house. Their world was one that I knew nothing about.
I had a professor in college that offered some good advise. He told us when we got a job, we should drive around the neighborhood and get to know where our students come from. I decided to do just that. I also got to know my students by asking better questions and really listening to their answers. Relationships began to form with my students. Many of them would stay after school for extra help or many times just to talk. In addition to the empathy that I had for my students and their situations, I also formed a new sense of respect for both them and their families (or sometimes not their families).
Nakkula and Toshalis note that both teachers and students learn from one another and I agree. I know that my students are responsible for helping to shape me into the teacher that I am today. We all have been influenced by at least one teacher in our lives, good or bad. Through out my career there have been many many students who have influenced my life.
I realized that because of the type of job I have and especially the population that I teach, goes way beyond the classroom. I have made meals for families, visited them at home, I have gone to students' houses when they have not shown up to class. I gone to court, to funerals, hospitals, graduations and weddings. I am not patting myself on the back nor do I think that I am doing anything out of the ordinary. There are many teachers in my school and in other schools all over the world who do the same thing and more. Nakkula and Toshalis question if educators should go beyond the curriculum and form relationships. They also ask if this is possible with all students. I know that it is a difficult task but I absolutely believe that it is important to do the best we can.
Rita Pierson is the type of educator that I strive to be. She believes that it is essential for teachers to connect with their students on a personal level. Pierson states that "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." I agree, if we fail to engage our students they will not learn.