Teaching upper dog vs. lower dog
This week, I have no topic for #YourEduStory, so I’ve decided to blog about a phenomenon I like to call the “I must teach the downtrodden” philosophy.
I started my teaching career in rural Missouri where the majority of my students had no desire to go to a four-year university. Many lived in extreme poverty and classroom life was rough, to say it mildly. Though it is not the urban environment shared in moves like “Dangerous Minds,” the students are just as needy. And, that is the phenomenon I’ve noticed – the “needy” student attraction.
Recently, a fellow educator said that she will always be teaching her “poor” students in way that implied that teaching “wealthy” students was somehow less worthy. And, while many will jump to say that is not the case, it isn’t always the reality. In the teaching profession, we glamorize those of who who teach in “rough” environments. We put these on a pedestal.
Now, you can easily argue that, at the same time, others want to teach “wealthy” because those students can achieve more.
These are equally offensive, but the former is my current observation.
Recently, I left public school after ten years. I felt like a traitor. Why? I felt like I was selling out to the wealthy gods. And, I was not alone in that thought. In fact, I contemplated for a while whether to take the jump. Eventually, I did.
Then, I realized that whether students are “poor” or “rich” is not what makes one teacher better than the other. We are not innately better than others because we teach low income or high income. That is the phenomenon I see – this glamorization of teaching low-income schools. Yes, we need teachers in those places. We need them everywhere. However, we need teachers in the places where they feel most passionate – whether that is rural, urban, private, etc. We need to not place prestige on one location of teaching over another.
The students I work with now have the means and the resources to change the world – but so do my former students. Their means and resources are just different. Their physical obstacles are different, but their inherent teenage issues are not that unique.
I work with students that have the knowledge, money, and skills to make global changes. But, they lack the self-confidence, maturity, and ethics to do so. As a teacher, my lessons are different but my need is just as great. I worked with a student last year in public school who had the leadership skills to change the world. In fact, I wait for her to make significant changes in the area of women’s rights. Her teachers helped her fine-tune those skills to make those changes.
In my first years of teaching at a rural school, my students did not have school knowledge, money, or classroom skills to understand the changes they could make. That’s the difference. This population needs to be taught to understand they can make changes while the other population needs to know how.
As I wrap up my first few months, I still feel somewhat foreign. Most of my students come from two-parent families. Their parents are involved, but not overly involved. They are involved in the arts and in athletics. They are polite and respectful. They are wonderful. They are…teenagers. They lack self-confidence. They do not know how to advocate for themselves. They don’t know how to contribute in a meaningful way. These are their challenges. I remind myself each day that they are more than a stereotype. They need just as great of teachers as other students.
This phenomenon only hinders students. If we viewed all elements of teaching with prestige and honor and all students as needy, what would our system look like? We are full of stereotypes of what is meaningful and what is not. Let’s remove those stereotypes and look at education by the needs of our students – not what they are on paper. I like to call it the needs-based approach.
What phenomenons do you see that you would like to change?