#TeachingIs…Empowering

“Good teachers take time out and speak to students like they are friends. They never give up on any student…

Education [teaching] is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. 

—William Butler Yeats

Some years ago, as part of a ten-year classroom research project on teaching Standard English to African American students, I worked with a focus group of students and parents from my community here in the Mississippi Delta.

One of the questions I posed to them was: What makes a good English teacher? Their responses were insightful, not only for the research project, but for my ongoing work as a classroom teacher.  The following student remark was typical:

 Good English teachers have a good relationship with their students. Not only do they teach the students, but they talk to the students about things other than the things that are supposed to be taught. Good teachers take time out and speak to students like they are friends. They never give up on any student, no matter how much they don’t understand the work. The teachers always keep their patience and try to help the students no matter what.

Similarly, the parents in the focus group stressed the attitude of the teacher towards their children as the most critical factor in teacher effectiveness, particularly in teaching language arts. The question has never been whether Black students could learn standard English, advanced math, or any other subject. The battle has been getting our children the opportunity to learn in culturally appropriate settings; to be taught, not trained.

Near the end of my study, I adopted the term culturally engaged instruction to describe how teaching and learning occur in my classroom. The students and I are engaged (committed to an interactive, mutually satisfying relationship over an extended period of time) in an exchange of cultural information. I learned that students and parents must develop a level of trust with the teachers in order to compensate for the historically derived mistrust that language arts instruction has engendered within large segments of the African American community. This goes beyond just a superficial, “I like my teacher,” although that may be how the students articulate it. It is trust rooted in respect and nurtured through genuine communication.

I am convinced that successful teaching can only come from a working knowledge of the student as an individual and as part of a broader historical and social network. Empowering language arts instruction is a dynamic practice shaped by collaborative analysis of the particular cultural experiences, strengths, and learning goals of students within a specific community.

We need the professional courage and competency to teach students, not just to flaunt our knowledge of content. The art and science of teaching involves not only dispensing facts and terminology, but also learning cultures, needs, and perspectives which may not match, or even conflict with our own.

My goal as an English teacher is to help my students become more effective communicators in various mediums (speaking, writing, listening, and reading) for the world in which they must live and lead.

Me, I’m a firestarter.

———-

Photo Credit: Stockarch.com

  • ChiquitaToure

    On Point!

    Renee,

    My two favorite quotes: 

    I love your introspection on teaching 

    “I am convinced that successful teaching can only come from a working knowledge of the student as an individual and as part of a broader historical and social network. “

    Our students do not exist in isolation, they are connected to histories, cultures, and experiences. We should acknowledge this because it helps to humanize our teaching .

     “The art and science of teaching involves not only dispensing facts and terminology, but also learning cultures, needs, and perspectives which may not match, or even conflict with our own.” Yes as teachers we should be willing to share but also be challenged in our thinking..

  • ChiquitaToure

    On Point!

    Renee,

    My two favorite quotes: 

    I love your introspection on teaching 

    “I am convinced that successful teaching can only come from a working knowledge of the student as an individual and as part of a broader historical and social network. “

    Our students do not exist in isolation, they are connected to histories, cultures, and experiences. We should acknowledge this because it helps to humanize our teaching .

     “The art and science of teaching involves not only dispensing facts and terminology, but also learning cultures, needs, and perspectives which may not match, or even conflict with our own.” Yes as teachers we should be willing to share but also be challenged in our thinking..

  • SandyMerz

    Teaching is not training

    Absolutely – I was (and am) taught by people I trust and with whom I engage. The lessons that have lasted a life-time come from thosee teachers. Training is short-term, consequence driven, and largely extrinsic. What I was trained to do maybe be useful (driving) but not deep.

  • ReneeMoore

    Empowering to Everyone Involved

    Thank you both, Sandy and Chiquita, for your comments. What I hope comes across in this is that culturally engaged teaching empowers everyone involved: student, teacher, famililes, and schools. This human exchange is at the heart of what we do.

  • SusanGraham

    Communication is dialogue not discourse.

    Exposing our students to a world beyond their own and helping them express their perceptions and ideas is huge. But if we don’t learn to hear as well as tell, we miss being taught by our students, their families and their immediate communities.  Teaching and learning is a two way conversation. Effective educators are likely to learn as much from their students as they teach those students each day.
     

  • marsharatzel

    The best part of teaching.

    Dear Renee,

    I think you’re right.  In science, it’s about finding the strengths of my students and playing to those strengths.  Finding ways to establish a two-way dialog where neither of us knows where we’ll end up.

    I especially love it when a student brings something to my attention that they found at home or when they were out and about.  Recently a student was fascinated by Newton’s 3rd law and rockets…I showed him a Mythbusters segment that I especially love.  He actually went home and watched it….then we talked about it.  From there he found another one and tried it with his dad.  They made their own Mythbusters style movie and he was super proud to share it back with me.  It was an honest exchange of ideas and wondering….”how will this work?’  “what if I tried to do this?”.

    Relationships.

    The best part of teaching.

  • Aekoonlaba

    Trust

    Trust is so important. Teaching requires building relationships. Getting to know the students and their families in a deeply meaningful way is one of the most fulfilling parts of this job. You’ve touched on some significant ideas here, especially how trust is critical for learning.

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks. 

  • Tonette

    Mathematics

     Teaching is  a  vocation.  It is a  calling with  passion.  It is  very challenging  yet  fulfilling  especially when you  learn that there are professionals out there and some are  also  following your  footsteps as  a teacher. It inspires us  teachers  when you get to know your students, students' parents saying good  things about you  and  telling that you are their inspiration.. We  should not be tired of  doing or  serving our vocation because God himself is a teacher that never get tired of  teaching His children a lot of  everything.