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I Am Not A Racist

I have often mused with my non-white, suburban, educator friends how I, this melanin-clad, over forty, urban, middle class teacher would fare in suburbia. Would my no-nonsense, you-are-going-to-learn-today attitude meet with resistance in a school where poverty is a discourse and performance is without question? Of course, they assure me I would be just fine. I’m a bit dubious.

What I am sure of, however, is that far too many of my non-melanin popping sisters and brothers may NOT ask themselves the same questions before taking on the arduous task of teaching in an urban school. 

Intentionally, I digress to share background information for those of you visiting this blog for the first time. Now retired, I have made a lateral move from teaching students to teaching teachers. As consultant with Fostering Teachers, I work primarily with new teachers who teach in high poverty, low performing schools and are not having success. I save districts time and money by assisting these teachers. I save new teachers their sanity.

At Fostering Teachers we believe that Failure Is Not An Option and Zip Code Doesn’t Matter. The mission we embrace is Equipping Life-Giving, Passionate Teachers With the Skills and Strategies to Sustain Mastery Teaching and High Academic Performance. Inoculating oneself with these core beliefs ensures endurance at a minimum and success at its pinnacle in challenging schools.

While the research appears inconclusive, (http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/12/new-research-confirms-black-students-better-taught-black-teachershttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/black-teachers-may-not-be_n_1587896.html) I speak here of what I have witnessed in my tenure: There are white teachers in urban schools who teach well and are highly regarded. There are white teachers in urban schools with tenure who are sarcastic and unimaginative. There are white teachers in urban schools who are there solely for the pay. There are white teachers in urban schools who understand the struggle and face the challenges undaunted.

I know, I know, I know! There are black teachers who fit the bill as well. However, there is USUALLY one criterion that sets the two apart, an undeniable advantage: Black teachers understand the struggles and challenges faced by students in urban schools. Despite being a teacher, despite being middle class, Black teachers are not removed from racism, scrutiny, and disadvantages. They are intricately familiar with the struggles students in urban schools face on a daily basis. They have the ability and the consciousness to be intimately empathic to their students’ needs. The six degrees of separation we have with our students is the reason we are so demanding each and every day. We are keenly aware that if one is to gain a semblance of equality on an uneven playing field, our students must have the deck stacked in their favor – education, and a quality education at its best!

A MESSAGE TO MY WHITE COLLEAGUES: Embrace the struggle. Know that you can be successful. You can reach your students. What you can’t do is bring white, middle class values into an urban school. Seek the help and assistance of your African American colleagues. Ask question. Be willing to learn. Make adjustments in your thinking. If, however, you find you just can’t, that the work is just too much, PLEASE QUIT! Don’t kill our kids. They already have a target on their backs.

 

 

Mind Your Manners

I am an assertive, jump-right-in-there, no-time-to-mince-words individual. This approach is evident in daily interactions, including text messages and emails. Thank goodness for good friends!

To what, you ask, am I referring? MANNERS. I have some friends who aren’t bothered by my direct approach. However, there are a few who rightfully remind me of the importance of manners when communicating with others, especially when emailing or texting. Maybe you, too, need to conduct an internal evaluation of your manners protocol.

Why is a pleasant acknowledgement important? 

Reason #1:

a. It maintains the standards of basic civility that we’re all entitled. Like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, these two little words also go a long way towards improving communication and the overall atmosphere.

b.  ’Good morning’ humanizes the recipient.  We’re real people, not just cogs in a pointlessly spinning wheel.  Show some humanity.

c.  Provides for a more democratic environment, a leveled field, where everyone from the Superintendent to the cafeteria worker gets to share in a friendly two-second exchange.

d.  It’s quick (and relatively painless).  If it is painful, you should probably be looking for a new career or scheduling time for some serious self-reflection.

e.  It’s free.

f.  Acknowledging the mere presence of someone is interpersonal communications 101. Don’t YOU want to be noticed? You might tell yourself otherwise, but at the end of the day, we all want to be recognized.  (http://www.jobacle.com/blog/7-reasons-to-say-good-morning-to-your-co-workers.html)

REASON #2

a.  We must teach our students. Based on the way I (and probably those of you reading this) was taught, manners are on the endangered list. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’, ‘yes ma’am’, and ‘no sir’ have fallen by the wayside. I am actually appalled, and a bit miffed, when I pass a person in the hallway or on the street and no glance, nod, or other form of acknowledgement is exchanged.

b.  Manners expressed by our youth garner attention. When a student responds with a ‘yes ma’am’ my ears perk up and I silently thank his/her parents. This child has the evidence of soft skills which will place him/her a rung higher in social settings.

c. We are the examples. I know your plates are already full to the point of regurgitation. However, if it’s in you, and it probably is, it will take little effort on your part to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to your students. It won’t take much to respond to them with a ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘no sir.’ Your classroom may be the ONLY place these words are uttered.

d. Acknowledging the mere presence of someone is interpersonal communications 101. Don’t YOU want to be noticed? You might tell yourself otherwise, but at the end of the day, we all want to be recognized, especially those young ones whose lives we influence in a lasting way.

 

 

When Building Relationship Fails

Building relationships in the classroom is vital for a successful school year for students and teachers. Everybody knows that!! We execute team building activities. We introduce and practice Kagan structures. We create beautiful “getting-to-know-you” activities. We spend a significant amount of time during the first week of school on these exercises to ensure a pleasant and satisfying end-of-year peace.

Yet sometimes, despite all our valiant efforts, nothing worked. The classroom is in disarray. The most egregious offense is a common occurrence – disrespect. Students talk out-of-turn, throw objects at the teacher and each other, mimic, refuse to participate….the list goes on.

Now what? Is all lost? Should you quit? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! There is a very strategic and calculated solution to the problem: REGROUP.

Something went awry during those first days of school and it’s probably not the students’ fault. For some reason, students do not feel it’s necessary to be respectful.  You probably spent a fair amount of time getting to know your students and making sure your students knew and appreciated each other. But, how much time did you spend in ensuring your students knew YOU? We often forget it is equally important that students know who we are. They need to relate to us on a teacher/student level. Here are my suggestions to turn this situation around.

  1. Admit there is a problem – Be honest with your students. The troublemakers do not represent the feelings of the entire class community. There are quite a few students who are already committed to learning.  The reality is, it’s our job to correct the problem. Although we would like to have that brave student who speaks up condemning the abhorrent behaviors, it is not the responsibility of students to confront disrespect in the classroom; it’s ours!

2. Take time to build teacher/student relationships – Inform students of your mistake in not allowing time for them to get to know you. One activity to try serves a dual purpose: building community and trust among students while simultaneously building community and trust with you. The assignment looks like this:

  • Use a team building activity to put students into work groups.

  • Display the following prompt: WHO IS (your name)?

  • Allow student groups to write on chart paper, create a slideshow/video, or prepare a skit about who they think you are. I warn you, this can be very difficult to see and hear, but the end results are truly worth the painful experience.

  • Allow students to share their work with the entire class.

  • While students present, take note of their misconceptions.

  • When presentations are completed, gently share the reality of who you are. Acknowledge their misconceptions, but share the truth of you.

  • There are bound to be some commonalities between you and your students. Capitalize on them to further build relationship with your class.

I would like to say this activity is an original idea, but it’s not. The book, Keeping It Real and Relevant, by Ignacio Lopez, contains this activity and more. I am so impressed with the first chapter,  I ordered the book for myself.

So, whether you find yourself pulling your hair out and it’s only the second week of school, or if school has not yet begun, do not underestimate the value of ensuring students know who you are as their teacher – your likes, dislikes, family, dreams, hobbies, etc. As you share remember you are their teacher, not their friend. Your relationship may never become that of friends, and that’s OK. However, you have a significant role in their lives, and they need to know who stands before them!!

 

Failure Is Not An Option and Zip Code Is Irrelevant

 

Connection vs Relationship

I have enrolled in a class, WIBO (Workshop in Business Opportunity) to bolster Fostering Teachers and my understanding of how to have a successful business. We meet on Mondays, and at the conclusion of last night’s meeting, I had an epiphany: There is a significant and major difference between connection and relationship.

CONNECTION

RELATIONSHIP

The pictures look very similar, and indeed, without giving the two interactions much thought, one might assume they are the same – but they’re not. What I have come to understand is that I can connect with another based solely on commonality of experience. For example, a classmate shared some challenges she had faced during the day. In particular, she received a ticket in her haste to arrive at class on time. I connected with that. I too have had a similar experience. I connected with her, but we do not yet have relationship. Yesterday was only our second class together.

While connections can be made instantaneously, building relationship has a different set of dynamics. Relationship building requires willingness, time, commitment, honesty, and trust.

A relationship is work, and it changes. And you go with the changes. It’s more good times than bad times, but it’s not always good. You have to overcome those issues and move on.

David Burtka

How is all this connected to education? Building relationship with students is hard work. I’ve heard and read educational conversations that say spend the first week of school building relationship with your students. Really! The first week? Why would we think that time spent building a relationship with a husband or significant other would be any different from building relationship with students? The same amount of time, commitment, honesty and trust we devote to adult relationships is only a fraction of the time needed to build relationship with our students.

This is reality – teacher/student relationships take longer than a week to develop. Relationship building is on-going. When a teacher is willing, devotes time, and is honest, students may begin to trust around the end of first semester.

I encourage all teachers, especially those new to the profession to commit to building student/teacher and student/student relationships the entire school year. One week is NOT ENOUGH.

 

 

 

 

 

RETIRED!!!

RETIRED

 

For the past 24.5 years, I have had the distinct pleasure of teaching in a high poverty, urban middle school. I never aspired to be an administrator, and I loved every moment I spent in the classroom.

On July 1, I celebrated those fantastic years with family, friends and colleagues. The highlight of the retirement celebration was visiting with students I had the pleasure of teaching over the years. These students, who based on academic prowess alone, should have been counted out, but were instead thriving. My former students are gainfully employed, raising children, good citizens, and have grown into adults I am proud to have taught and even more proud to know.

As I listen to their memories of us as teacher and student, I am more assured than ever that I am on the right path to fulfill a new assignment – recruitment, support, and retention of teachers with the will and skill to teach in urban, public schools.

I recall reading about an impending teacher shortage at least ten years ago, but there was no apparent evidence of such. Today, the reality is setting in – the vanguard of teachers is retiring, few desire to be part of the profession, and those who do elect to become teachers are often dismayed, overworked, and underpaid. They quickly exit teaching for a more lucrative work experience. Yet, as I share memories with my former students and hear the requests of the students I taught during summer school, asking that I stay one more year, I know that I can not abandon educating students who come to school everyday with more challenges and survival skills that I will ever possess.

I ask for your support for Fostering Teachers, but I ask even more for your prayers. I’m unsure of the steps I am to take, but I have faith that my voice will be heard. I have faith that those who hear will support. I have faith that Fostering Teachers will make a difference in the lives of teachers and therefore the lives of students.

Thank you!

Be A Strict Teacher….It’s OK!

This article is dear to my heart. Lengthy, but well worth it.

http://blackboardtalk.com/2017/05/22/please-please-please-for-the-love-of-god-dare-to-be-a-strict-teacher/

Black Teachers Matter. School Integration Doesn’t.

One goal of Fostering Teachers is to ensure high-quality educators are recruited, retained, and supported in urban, high poverty schools. In the commentary, the author quotes recent research:

“The study, issued last month by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that low-income black students who have just one black teacher in grades 3-5 are more likely to graduate and consider college, their likelihood of dropping out reduced by 29 percent. This is especially true for low-income black boys, whose dropout rates fall by a whopping 39 percent when a black teacher leads the class.”

Read the short commentary here: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/05/04/black-teachers-matter-school-integration-doesnt.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2

 

 

 

 

A Radical Way to Transform Difficult Students

We have all had that one student who just irks us. I have one now. He asks questions I’ve already given answers to. In my heart-of-hearts, I know he’s doing it now just to irritate me. I like him well enough, but he gets on my nerve.

This article is for us!

https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2017/04/29/a-radical-way-to-transform-difficult-students/