Monday, April 23, 2012

The Difference a Teacher Can Make

In another life I work at a Junior High School as a tutor.  Often it is an uplifting job, because I get to work with smart kids who are learning about their own potential and want to really go someplace with their lives.  Sometimes though, I hate being there.  Not because the kids don't care (and sometimes they don't), but because I hear the way the "teachers" are speaking to them in the hall.  As a society often we talk about the disrespect of students towards teachers, when I think we should consider the fact that the students are learning disrespect from their teachers.  Calling your students, "Lazy Lumps" or telling them that you can't believe they can't solve a problem on the board doesn't really inspire them to give their all in class.  Yelling at them like animals isn't a solution either.  But I've seen teachers do both of these things as a tutor.

Mind you I'm not saying teachers are terrible.  I believe that most of them are given tools to educate, test, and show our students the way to success.  But most of them are taught how to deal with the ideal classroom rather than a real classroom and this can frustrate and discourage even the best or most well meaning teacher.  And as I was once told by one of my mentors, "Discipline is the most important thing a teacher must teach."

For example, a few years ago I was in a classroom with a man who told his students how stupid he thought they were when they wouldn't answer his questions when he taught them at the board.  After doing so, he still expected for them to do their work, but most of them just refused.  When I was in his classroom I noticed that there were three types of students in his class.  The ones who refused to care, the ones who refused to let him keep them down, and the ones who were hurt by his callous attitude.  I didn't spend a lot of time with the ones who weren't effected by him, and instead focused on the students who he hurt the most with his comments.  In a few weeks of being in his class they were working hard on every assignment, because for every time he insulted them I reminded them of how smart they were and helped them with the work.  They trusted me and what I said more than what he said and soon enough they were able to answer his questions on the board and he was praising them too.  But had he chosen to discipline them with expectations according to their ability instead of ridiculing them for their silence he could have developed that relationship with them on his own.

The following is a video of one of my online mentors, Mr. Taylor Mali.  He's a poet and a teacher and the message in this video is superb.  Take a few minutes and watch it.  I'll wait.  He's worth it.

I think Mr. Mali would agree that right now we are in a teaching epidemic.  How many of our kids come home from school feeling this way about their teachers?  Too often they have one teacher like Mr. Mali, the others don't seem to care enough, and then there's one who is just awful.  And that awful one makes you never want to send your child to school again, because the awesome teachers can't undo the damage the awful one's do alone.

So if you have children, please be more involved in their education.  Teachers do have tenure, but nothing says that they have to attend a class or a school where they are being hurt.  One of my friends recently kept her daughter from going to a school where her son had problems.  Other friends have gotten their students involved with helping their teachers.  When a student understands the work load a teacher is under, it changes how they participate in their classrooms.

It is time to expect something more of our teachers and the systems that prepare them for the classroom. But this isn't just about teachers in the classroom.  It is also about what we invest in our children's education.  Teachers should be able to expect us to support them.  When that teacher who was calling students stupid, when he had the support of his students his attitude changed.  If we teach our children they need to support teachers and show that through our own example by communicating with them, sharing our concerns, and praising them for what they are doing well we can make a community of teaching that can change the lives of countless students.

I have a pretty solid plan for what I will do if I am not able to make it at first as a novelist.  I have every intention of teaching in a classroom.  And even if I make it as a novelist I'll be finding ways to support teachers in my community.  Because teaching is a communal activity.  You, I, and our teachers all play a part.  And it is my hope that the future will be bright because we all learn how we can.  I'm the First OG, Jayrod Garrett, and I just want to know:

In what ways do you see us being able to better support our teachers?
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