Student voice is an essential part of creating a more equitable classroom.
Still, it would be foolish to ignore that, because of the historical role of educators and the time we spend with students, teachers have a considerable amount of influence on them. For the most part, this can be wonderful. Many of us stay in the profession because we develop a deep love and bond with our students.
It’s essential, though, that we take pause and reflect on our own position of power. Sometimes, our students will call us out, as mine have. Sometimes, we are pushed be fellow educators to break down our privilege, as Rebecca Alder did wonderfully in Edutopia.
Then, sometimes, we understand how things should not work by seeing things that strike us with a gut feeling of...
That’s how I felt reading NPR‘s piece on “No-Nonsense” classrooms. The piece, which discusses the use of scripted, narrative classroom management as seen in “high-performing” classrooms, focuses on giving classrooms “structure” that students apparently need.
While I understand, on some level, the impetus for such management, I was upset at the idea of relationships built on only praising “outstanding” effort.
First, who defines “outstanding”? If a student was able to get to school after, say a difficult winter break (an issue that NPR reported on as well), is that not a feat of strength? When my students would come to school after working evenings at a warehouse, did they not deserve my praise and validation?
The issue with seeking “structure” as a way to combat “problematic” schools is that it ignores the larger, systemic issues that affect our students on a day-to-day basis. Most kids aren’t just “rascally,” difficult humans who don’t value education. Many communities are faced with issues that may be invisible in the face of the student having a difficult time in our classroom. As The Washington Post reported in their piece, This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids shows, one of the strongest ways to support students is to begin supporting them as whole humans and as part of larger communities. Focusing on simply student behavior ignores and invalidates students’ life experiences and those of the community they come from.
Another issue, as I wrote about previously, is that it focuses on forcing students into a system that wasn’t built for them. The original article addressed as well:
No-nonsense nurturing makes some education specialists uncomfortable, though. "Maybe we are doing them a favor by teaching them codes of power, but maybe we're also participating in some kind of, I don't know, colonization," says Barb Stengel, an education professor at Vanderbilt University. "We're simply teaching kids to look like me." She worries there's too much emphasis on compliance, not engagement.
I couldn’t agree more.
I am not without hope. Recently, the Young Teacher’s Collective posted this fantastic piece, Upon Being Called Father, from Evan Taylor. The entire piece is outstanding. One particularly powerful section:
Another student who was playing a game and talking decided to come and witness this moment. The two boys that joined even tried to take over my teaching, since they too wanted to help. My classroom is a living room. We were all sitting on the couch, learning, and other relatives came to sit near the couch, wanting to become part of the memory. That is what my classroom is about: creating moments where the classroom becomes the living room, the place where an individual's life dictionary is used to teach them how to break down the world into their own terms.
If teachers like Mr. Taylor are coming up in the world, I am hopeful about what comes next.
Look, we don’t need to abuse our power and privilege as educators. We shouldn’t create classrooms focused on meeting behavioral standards students aren’t invested in. Our students don’t need a running tally of all the ways they are failing an ideology that was not built to lift them up in the first place.
If we want to combat the issues faced by students in oppressive environments, we need to do something radical and undo the damage from a system that failed them. We need to honor and cultivate their humanity. Our students deserve the kind of radical love that sees them as their full, wonderful selves.
Image Credit: Unknown. Please let me know if you know the artist.
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.