It’s been quite a while since I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher. After starting my career as an English teacher back in 2000, my career took me in many fun and exciting directions. After just 5 years in the classroom, I made the move into school administration. I spent 7 total years in school administration and I must say, I really enjoyed every minute of my experience! However, after my school principal and district administrator experiences, my calling came calling again. Missing the classroom and the daily interactions with amazing young people, I decided to venture back into the realm of the sacred place. The classroom has always been my sanctuary; even when I served as a school administrator, I always modeled best instructional practices while serving as the instructional leader. Thus, my transition back into the classroom has not been quite the rewarding experience.
What I have discovered or rediscovered for that matter is the energy and attention to detail it takes to serve as an effective classroom teacher. Every minute of my day is spent working to enhance the learning experiences of young people, while also working to help each of them realize the genius that rests within.
For the last two weeks I have engaged students in writing conferences. During this time, I meet with each student individually to discuss their writing pieces and their chosen crafting process. These meetings last about 15-20 minutes each. It is a fantastic experience to hear their thinking process and crafting practices; I share advice with them to help along with the process, but I learn so much more from them as a collective group. In addition, they really enjoy the personal attention I give to each of them during these conferences. One student said, “I will never throw this paper away because it actually means something to me now.” She was able to identify the value of the process; the back in forth with words, the edits, the rethinking, the metacognition, the stretching, the reaching, and the joy it brings when the piece is finally published.
Hey there Zora, remember me? We met about 20 years ago when I was just a young college kid trying to find my place in the universe. Back then, I was like you, always wondering how to get from here-to-there. You may not remember but we fell in love with each other when we met under that fig tree. You were sitting there agelessly under that tree, and I came over to you and asked for your permission to sit next to you. Back then I didn’t know how to talk to you, nonetheless carry on a meaningful conversation with your sheer brilliance. I mean, I was young…just about between the horizon of a teenager and a young man. Needless to say, you were gentle with me. You walked me through the beauties of lily fields, telling me so many tales along the way. We encountered so much together; so much so, after our shared time I began introducing others to you. That’s right, I introduced you to high school students, middle school students, and anyone else who would listen. Still today, the two of us share the promising horizon of a better tomorrow together. Please promise to never leave my side. Happy Birthday Zora Neale Hurston!
One of the greatest challenges faced by educators, especially those working with at-risk students, is developing quality relationships. I try not to use the term “at-risk” to describe youth but we must realize that some of our youth are subjected to greater risk due to their inherit social economic status, negative peer-group pressures, poor living conditions, and sometimes race/culture.
With this said, it is imperative that educators realize the true value in developing positive relationships with those students who may encounter some of the challenges mentioned above. In order to truly establish meaningful relationships, there are several things educators must be willing to do in order to gain the trust of the student. In the culturally responsive teaching literature, methods are shared to enable educators the opportunity to develop healthy youth-adult relations. One method I would like to bring to light in this piece is minimizing relational distance (Gee, 1996). Irregardless of age, an adult has the ability to engage in dialogue with youth that proves to be responsive and aligned with the social experiences of the child. This involves the adult sharing personal narratives with the youth, demonstrating familiarity with the youths’ culture, and engaging in dialogue involving mutual interests.
As a teacher, principal, and district level administrator, I utilized this approach with children, parents, and community. My honest connections proved to be beneficial to my ability to create partnerships with parents and strong age-appropriate bonds with students. I urge teachers and other adults working with youth to utilize the above approach to relationship building.