Soft Like Baby Talc

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

I keep telling some of these “educators” that they can’t tell me nothin’.

John Holland recently talked about the differences between urban and suburban education as it concerns one’s demeanor. In many educators’ eyes, they think just because they have a dream that they can go into any school and magically transform children into shiny, happy people. They have this vision that somehow their idealism can save Black and Latino children from their desperate conditions and just having a little exposure to a new form of teacher will undoubtedly make them want to do better for themselves and improve their communities and become the shining beacon for their whole generations.

It doesn’t quite work out that way. Urban education requires a little more discipline. Where other children may come ready to learn and focused, many of the children I teach neither have parents who value education that much nor have people in the family who’ve gone beyond high school (or even middle school). Just the other day, we had a child who was going to the Dominican Republic at the start of Memorial Day Weekend … and continued in for two weeks! There’s no reinforcement of classroom rituals and routines at home with many of my students.

There’s also a barrier that exists that limits the types of things teachers can do (some teachers in smaller towns visit their students’ homes. WOW!). Most of all, though, kids are not just kids: every student is a product of their environment and they have different internal metrics for whether you measure up for what their teacher looks like.

In other words, if you don’t cut it, you’re getting cut, plain and simple. It doesn’t mean you need to scream at them all the time, or have militaristic tendencies (some prefer that), but it means you have to demand the respect first and foremost before you can even shed some of that tough exterior. I can personally tell you that I’ve seen the softer approach tried by teachers and they’re constantly berated, shown disrespect, and have little to no learning happening in those classrooms. Once I get them the next year, or another teacher whose got a solid backbone, they learn how to learn.

See, if you really care about the students in your classroom, you’re not just teaching them curriculum; you’re teaching them about life, and how there’s a need for balance. Yes, that “look” is often amorphous, but the energy behind it is unmistakable. The lack of equilibrium in their lives can only be matched by someone willing to see them for who they are, and working from there. Thus, I can usually quell any questions I might have about the way I handle my class with a clear conscience.

Here’s hoping that when I continue to find my way through this labyrinth of education, I won’t lose touch of what it really means to be in a classroom.

jose, who wonders how people can rush to judgment through a teacher’s first post, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re coming from on high …

p.s. – I’ll discuss the other side later on, but comments are open. Go on.