I became an educator because I wanted to be for students what I needed most when I was in middle and high school, and even though I am not teaching currently, it still remains true.
You see if truth be told, I hated school. From eighth grade and beyond, school was not a safe place for me which ultimately led to me not graduating on time. I dreaded going to school for many reasons but primarily I didn’t feel a sense of belonging with my peers nor with the teachers I saw each day.
I remember vividly my eighth grade principal vowing to keep me off the cheerleading squad and making sure that I didn’t get to go on any school sponsored trips. Not only did she make that vow, but she upheld it and made sure my final year in middle school was memorable and not in a loving fuzzy feeling type of way. I will always remember middle school as the beginning of the end for me. It was then that I made up my mind that school didn’t matter and neither did I.
What I wish she knew was at the end of my seventh grade year my father’s addiction was tearing my family apart. As his addiction progressed his temper became shorter, his outburst became more frequent, and his contribution to take care of his family became less and less.
Trauma is real and the side effects may not manifest immediately. What I didn’t realize is I was traumatized by what I experienced in the home and it was magnified by the trauma I experienced in school at the hands of my administrator, teachers, and peers.
People that I thought were my friends talked about me behind my back and I didn’t have the support of teachers so needless to say my behavior began to match the expectations that were put in place subconsciously by those around me. I became rebellious. I began to skip school. I began searching for acceptance in anyone or anything that showed the slightest interest in me. I became angry and resentful that my family was going through such a difficult time and no one even noticed.
It is this experience in middle school that shaped who I became as an educator. I made a vow that I would try to look past my student’s disruptive behavior to determine what they really wanted me to know. In some cases there was nothing to their behavior other than them wanting attention because as you know some attention is better than no attention. But then there were those students who really wanted someone to notice that they just needed someone to listen. Someone to notice that they were hurting. Someone to take a genuine interest in them and what was happening in their world. They just wanted someone to know that their anger, their hurt, and their lashing out was not personal but they knew no other way to express themselves.
My work as an educational consultant these last few years has given me an even broader perspective of the relational needs of our black and brown students. Most of these students are taught by teachers who don’t understand them and may not have an interest in understanding them. Of course they will never voice that, but it is very obvious in their interactions with students, how they think about their ability as learners, and how they plan and deliver their instruction to black and brown students.
I have teachers tell me all the time how they have tried to build relationships with their students but the students resist, and it makes me wonder if these same teachers really understood the work that goes into building a relationship with students who may not have had the best educational experience thus far. I truly wonder if they realize what goes into building an authentic relationship with students who have been victims of direct or indirect trauma. Students who may have never had a positive relationship in their life.
I will tell you from experience that building relationships with students can prove to be both challenging and rewarding if you stay the course even during those difficult moments.
There is no magic formula but rather everyday things we can do that allow our students to get to know us as we get to know them. Through these actions is where the relationship is formed. It may not happen instantly but as time progresses so will the relationship you form with your students.