When I began my residency, during the summer courses we spoke for hours about how to form relationships with students of all backgrounds and the importance of developing these relationships from the beginning of the school year. Everyday, I left partly confused how could you not form relationships with these students? How could someone enter into a classroom and not leave changed, molded a little bit by each and every student that they work with? I later have come to realize it is possible for some, but not for myself and for this reason my entire philosophy of teaching stems from this idea. That each student in my classroom will leave changed by the relationships and culture I foster and that those connections will push them academically and socially long after I am their teacher.
In one of my graduate courses this year we were introduced to Jeff Duncan-Andrade and the term, Rida’s while I had heard this term many times before in music and popular culture I had never heard it in relation to a teacher- student relationship. Duncan-Andrade describes the relationship like this,
“They risk deep emotional involvement with the majority of their students and they are sometimes hurt because of those investments. The depth of their relationships with students allows them to challenge students and get notable achievement and effort.” (Duncan-Andrade, 2007)
This deep emotional involvement is something I want to wear on my sleeve; I want my students to know that I am willing to take a risk for them, so that they will be willing to take academic and social risks for me.
This year I have been fortunate enough to make a deep connection with two of the schools most challenging students. These students are too young to have a predetermined path in life, they should understand that people care about them and want them to succeed, however for these students that was not the case. They believed that they were the “bad” kids and they were destined to be arrested or worse. By fourth grade one student understood the inequities of the world that I am still uncovering for myself. Through bonds I took months to build and develop with these students, they not only knew that they could come to me but that I would fight for them when needed and tell them the truth when necessary. I can remember on many occasions telling a crying student in the hallway, “Who is this hurting right now?” and walking them back to class, because that action was not taking away from their teacher but it was hurting them as a person. When a student knows that you care about them, I believe you can be more honest with them, and instead of shutting down the student will be more receptive to these requests. They will take an emotional risk for you because of the investment you are making in them; students will not take a risk for no reason.
I don’t want to form relationship because that is what you are supposed to do in order to be a successful teacher I want these relationships because that is how we grow. As humans we make connections to one another that push us to be better, or hold us back, we cannot live in a solitary existence no matter what sort of relationships you make they will shape you as a person. I want my students to come into my classroom and form the type of connections that push them to grow. As we grow together through the year these relationships will be something that form me as a teacher as well as forming the people my students will become. As they grow up they will become people who form this type of relationship with others because I formed one with them.
In order for the bonds I build in my classroom to continue to make a difference after the year is over, students have to learn to create these relationships with each other as well. The friendships that students build with each other in my class will cross cultures, languages, disabilities and more to create a community where each student feels valued and supported. Through creating these friendships between each of my students, and hopefully my students and other students throughout the school and the city, my sphere of influence will grow exponentially. Many of my students have more than one factor, working “against” them when it comes to forming lasting relationships, often they are from different backgrounds than their peers and have one or more disabilities that may cause them to look or act differently. In order to become truly an agent of change in the district I want to begin to break these barriers down and show that though some people may need something different, that if we all work towards our goal each individual can succeed. This year I was able to work with the Affective Needs classroom, often these students were talked about by adults and teachers as “those kids” and they were rarely included in school or classroom activities. In the spring we fought to create a dance number and perform it twice in front of the entire school at the talent show. The students were able to hear the cheers from the crowd and give high fives after and to just be kids, as opposed to “those kids.” This small step allowed a few barriers to be broken down with their peers they began to form relationships based on shared interests rather than animosity based on the differences. People will never become blind to the different colors, cultures and disabilities my students have but by creating relationships with them these things can be seen for the value and not the differences they represent. As students grow they will become the people that set the standard for these connections, they will be able to dictate the type of bonds that are made with people of varying backgrounds. I can only control what is in my arena to control and influence but the more students I come in contact with the more I can create change, long after they have forgotten the rules for lattice multiplication.
In order for my students to be able to make the most impact possible I need to be able to push them academically as well. The achievement gap between students with disabilities and those without continues to be staggering not just in our district but also across the country. In order for my students to become my extra arms to influence the world I have to show them the value of their education as well. The idea of rigor has been something I have struggled with throughout my residency year. I wanted to push my students to make connections, to learn more and understand the intricacies of each text genre that we studied, to be able to put their words into writing but I was unclear of how to make this process rigorous for them. During my final lead teaching experience I decided to implement a writing block during our group sessions, each week the students completed a constructed response question and throughout the week they would reflect on their writing, edit it and ultimately assign a grade to their writing. At first students would give themselves a perfect score even after numerous conversations we had about things that could be improved in their piece of writing. Through open conversations and one on one meetings with each student by the third week they were able to truly become critical of their writing and think about what they wanted to change in the future. This task had become rigorous in thought because the student was not only thinking of completing a task at hand but looking to the future and how this task could help them as they continued to grow as writers. In one of my coaching conversations I received feedback that students were not afraid to have these one on one meeting about their writing with me even if it wasn’t their best work, and that students were comfortable having a differing opinion as me when it came to assigning a final grade to their writing. When a student in 4th grade can come to a teacher with a well developed argument regarding a grade they are becoming prepared to have difficult, professional conversations throughout their life. They will not only have to argue for grades, but jobs and other advances their entire lifetime, and these skills will last long after they have forgotten what the R in the RACE strategy stands for.
As I look both behind me through my residency year and into the future of what I will become as a teacher, one thing is clear I want the skills and connections my students make in my classroom to outlast the small academic victories they have. These skills will push their academics they will continue to grow and to close the achievement gap when they discover these things about themselves. These risks will be rewarded with grit, empathy, resilience, optimism and more, the life skills of a successful person and will lead to academic success as well. I want to create well-rounded students and students who want to challenge the status-quo. To say it is not always right simply because it is the way it has always been done. Like in many cases Maya Angelou said it best, “ People will forget what you said, will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to make my students feel that they are the agents of change; they can create a difference in the world if they set their minds to it. And I will do that by showing my students that someone truly cares for and believes in them at school, that when they come to school someone is happy to see them. I will roll up my sleeves and get to work being a Rida for my students.