I’m really into centering and focus lately in my teaching practice. The more and more I understand how it affects my everyday life, the more I see its implications in my work.
So, this weekend, I was frustrated when I saw not just one, but THREE separate discussions that, paraphrased, said, “if you’re a non-educator or not a teacher, I’m not interested in your opinion on my classroom.”
And I was like:
then I was like:
But I get it. I get it. Being a teacher is hard. Real hard. We face a lot of outside babble from folks trying to tell us how to do the job and actually being totally wrong, because you don’t know what a classroom is like until you step in there.
That’s really frustrating, and I understand if it has made us guarded. It makes us want to protect the few precious parts of our job that we have ownership over, that don’t feel stripped away by testing we may not agree with or other bureaucracy that, often, doesn’t make sense in our classrooms. You have a right to feel frustrated and skeptical. I often do too.
Still, you’re really gonna tell me that the only people qualified (or even those who are most qualified) to have an opinion on education are only teachers?
Only teachers are capable of understanding the ~mystical ways~ of our students, or our classrooms? Better yet (or worse), you wanna tell me that the academics from places that–you guessed it– are often institutionally racist/sexist/privileged know more about kids than their parents or community?
If you really think that the parents, community members, and other important folks in a student’s life don’t have just as much right to have an opinion as you do, what are you even doing here, bruh?
That sounds harsh, but for all the talk I see about “student-centered” classrooms, I see VERY LITTLE walking the walk.
So many teachers make it all about them and refuse to take outside support from community members. That’s an incredibly frustrating thing to witness, and I’m not even a parent! I can’t imagine what rage I would feel if my kid’s teacher told me that even though I share culture, race, and background with my student (beyond, ya know, being related to and raising this child), I unequivocally cannot have an opinion about what happens for hours a day in that classroom.
Don’t get me wrong: parents aren’t always able to see a clear picture of their kids either, at least for the time students are in the classroom. Sometimes, we have to remind folks what we’re seeing in the day-to-day. I’m not saying that parents or community members are always right.
But, especially when most teachers are White women, I have a hard time believing that they have any right to only listen to their opinion, or the opinion of outsiders to a community and ignore those who are from the community. How is that student centered?
Melinda brought up this excellent point when we talked about it online: when many of your teachers are not from the community and don’t share the cultural context of their students, forcing parents and community members to stay silent is a form of colonialism in our practice.
Communities have the right to self-author their stories through their children. My job as a teacher isn’t to outshine or shout over that– it’s to expose them and give them the tools to help them share it even louder!
The lack of humility it takes takes to decide that your voice or only your views on education have merit is not just rude, it’s dangerously restrictive and privileged. You do not get to call your teaching “student centered” when you purposefully ignore the voices and beliefs of those who influence student lives in favor of what you believe is “educated” thought.
I tend to think of a school community a little like a solar system. If my students are the center (which they should be), like the sun, then the bodies closest to them– parents, coaches, teachers etc– are the ones that not only have largest spheres of influence and connection (gravitational pull, if you will), but also the most reliable knowledge about what it’s like closest to that center.
I am very bad at art, but since I am trying to improve my visual aids, I have put together this Google Drawing to illustrate what I’m thinking:
As the chart shows (fancy, I know), no one is cut out of the picture here (and this is a pretty unfinished picture, despite how ~fancy~ it is). No one is saying that even the media or edu-companies should be cut out.
All I’m saying is this, bottom line: the closer you are to kids, the more you have a shared language, cultural context, and understanding of not just them, but all the stories that helped make them them, the more you can help.
Sometimes, even a lot of times, that’s a teacher. Sometimes, though, it’s not just a teacher, you know?
Look, no one is saying to silence teacher voice. Clearly, teachers are the ones in the trenches, day-to-day, dealing with what happens in schools. Saying that parent voice matters or community voice matters does NOT mean we ignore teacher voices, or even the voices of academia.
Research (especially from researchers who are social-justice-oriented or from communities we teach in, but that’s another post) is not the enemy. Teachers or parents aren’t the enemy. Even edtech companies aren’t the enemy. No one is the enemy. Everyone has something cool to offer. It’s not a zero-sum game. No one has to win or lose. We can all win.
The only way that happens, though, is if we consistently center the work on our students. If you really want to serve students, and center on them, but you have no relationships with students, you know what you’re probably going to be driven to do? TALK TO SOMEONE WHO DOES AND GIVE WEIGHT TO THEIR THOUGHTS.
And teachers? If we truly center on our students– as often as we can– and ask ourselves: who knows more about this kid right now? I bet the answer may not be us, or the amazing teaching practice book we just read, or that awesome article we loved when we were in teacher prep.
It’s probably going to be a parent, family member, friend or better yet: the student themselves.
I love teachers. I am teacher. I love being one, and I love working with other great teachers. I’m just asking us to remember– when it’s hot outside, when summer has us punchy and squirmy– to remember why we got into the work. Don’t cut out the people that help create the folks you really want to help the most: your students.