Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Reach out Beyond the Classroom


       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.


  1. Mary, you are such an awesome teacher and an awesome person. I hope I can be a teacher like you some day :) You truly LOVE your students and have an amazing ability to see beyond the exterior and into the souls of kids. With that said, I have to say that I also love the statement from Rita Pierson- "kids don't learn from people they don't like." However, after thinking about it for a few minutes, I have to disagree with this quote. I think that it is entirely possible for kids to learn from teachers that they don't like. I have had many teachers that I didn't like throughout my educational career, and I learned a lot from them (in both a classical and official sense). I also had some teachers that I did like and didn't learn anything from (except for maybe in a classical sense). To me it's similar to being a parent, I think it's unhealthy and unreasonable to expect that your own children are always going to "like" you, in fact there will be times when they might hate you. Does this mean they aren't learning valuable and worthwhile lessons? The water gets really murky and difficult to navigate...I want my students to like me, but I also feel that there will be times that they won't like me because I'm asking them to challenge themselves and pushing for growth.

  2. Thank you Brittany,
    I agree with you, we all want our students to like us. However, I don't think that is the meaning of Piersons' message. I know that there were many times that my own children did not like the lessons that my husband and I were trying to teach them. I am sure that my students have felt the same way. They all might not like it but they accept it because they know that I care. I think that when you form relationships you can push even harder. When the expectations are high more kids will rise to meet them if they know you are right there with them. This has been my experience.

  3. Hey Mary,

    I love the message that Rita Pierson is sending in this TED talk. I too feel that Nakkula and Toshalis strike a lot of chords with me both as a teacher and reflecting back on myself as a student. They remind us that we are working with young people who are still figuring out their place in the world. I am very aware that I had several champions who fought for me. I am also certain that if those teachers who plucked me from obscurity did not step in when they did that I would probably be sitting in a jail cell or worse right now. Fortunately, I had teachers like you who were able to see past my very rough exterior. More importantly, they had the knowledge, the guts and the patience to intervene in meaningful ways.


  4. Hi Mary,
    Have you ever been approached by an administrator(s) or colleagues who think that is 'not your place' to do things like attend funerals, make meals, and visit homes? If so, how have you dealt with that? If so, how have you dealt with it? I feel like there are always people that I work with who think that we should just come in the morning and leave after the last bell and that is where our interaction with students ends. I guess there are extremes in both directions. As a student I never felt that I had a teacher who was a champion for me until I became a student at RIC. I want to avoid any of my students every feeling that way, but there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day to speak to all of them, every day.

  5. I'm on the fence here... I have definitely learned from teachers I've disliked- even loathed- but the experience did leave me feeling reluctantly grateful, but mainly, annoyed or even bitter. Even if the project or the class or the material you take from the class is worthwhile, if you feel disrespected or like less of a co-learner and co-contributor to the class, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I think if the expectations are high, the learning is reciprocal, and the atmosphere is mutually respectful, the learning that takes place not only memorable, but meaningful.

  6. oh my gosh.....I have heard your stories before and feel sheltered and nieve to the fact that this goes on. I can understand that being in that situation is hard to determine if you are doing the right thing or not. As we work with these kids, it is not hard to leave that their personal story or image of who and what they will become can be a vision of success. I can also understand that it would be difficult to have a profound impact of these kids and change their perception of the world in which they live.