I am on a journey to deliver student perspectives to stakeholders inside and outside of education to ensure student voices are heard. My hope is that every student is at the proverbial table as we make important educational decisions that will influence the rest of their lives. This is about bringing young people out of the shadows.
The idea for these posts came directly from one of my students. After writing a blog about empowering students and asking for feedback, I waited for responses to come in. I did not have to wait long before I received the best feedback I could ask for and sure enough, the person was a 17-year-old high school student of mine. He helped me realize that I need to start taking my own advice. I needed to listen to my own message. I was offering inspiration on how we educate our young people and I, too, was forgetting to involve the youth voice. Once again, I was taking this journey alone and writing about what students needed without including the most important voice of all. I just needed to slow my roll, drop what I felt needed to be done, and listen to my students.
This blog is an interview with that exact student who inspired this journey. Tully and I spent an amazing two hours talking at a local coffee shop about his K-12 experiences. This blog post are highlights of our time spent together.
“I had a teacher that probably saved my school career. She treated me like an individual and celebrated who I was, not who she wanted me to be.”
Tully shared that he would love the opportunity to walk into a teacher meeting some day and have the floor to explain what is so clear to many students. “There is so much more than just the standards and the curriculum.” “The most memorable teachers take risks and bring in content outside of the traditional classroom.” “The best teachers teach for the students and not at the students.”
According to Tully, “Teachers need to be resourceful and they need to be aware that the system does not work for all.” “The system does not contain the right resources to help every student.” Tully believes that a teacher can make up for the lack of resources by truly interacting with their students. Teachers need to listen to their students and then use this knowledge to individually make a difference with every student. “I had a teacher that probably saved my school career. She treated me like an individual and celebrated who I was, not who she wanted me to be.” Students have an intuitive sense about teachers. They appreciate when teachers think, act, and teach outside of what lives in the textbook.
“It’s Simple: Just Interact with Your Students.”
How do we create a school environment where students want to be there? It seemed simple to Tully. “Just interact with your students,” Tully said. He did not understand why it was so difficult for so many teachers. “It will take effort, but if you show that you are willing to interact and willing to get to know them, they will relate to you more.” Tully really made me think. Why is it so difficult to make connections? Are we scared that it will not be reciprocal? Are we afraid that our students may not accept us?
“If you figure out your students’ passions, the rest is easy.” continued Tully. Students want to know that we care. Students need to connect with more than just our content. “ I know you will see trust, respect, and motivation in your classroom if you take the time and focus on your students.”
I dug a little deeper and asked how this has played out in school for him. “My whole school career felt like the school did not want to deal with me.” He continued, “Unfortunately, this became part of who I was. I had an attitude that if this school did not want me and the teachers did not want to deal with me, then I would not want to either. There are too many teachers and schools that are not set up to deal with the issues that we are bringing as students.” This was hard for me as an educator to hear. Please do not brush this aside, and it is not the time to get defensive. Whether or not this is entirely true with you or at your school, it is a perception for so many of our students. How do we let our students know we are prepared for the issues that will arise?
“Teachers need to give feedback that does not solely center around what we do wrong.”
If you have never asked a high schooler what they look for in a teacher, you are missing out. The insights and understanding of what is important are almost intuitive for high school students. It was not different for Tully when I asked what he would look for. “I would want the teacher to understand the importance of being able to motivate students.” Tully went on to point out that it should not be about giving grades based on test scores or about expecting students to repeat everything they heard. It should not be about homework completion. “Teachers need to give feedback that does not solely center around what we do wrong. Spending every day in math correcting the little mistakes caused me to hate math. Students give up on doing homework because we do not think anyone cares about the effort we put into the work, only that the answers are correct. It seems as though teachers only care whether it is done or not.” Do students leave our classrooms only remembering what they did wrong? That would be horrible.
“I felt many times in my school career that the school did not want to deal with me.”
“Thirty kids all in one class does not make sense.” Unfortunately, this has become much more the norm and not the exception in many of today’s high schools across our country. It can be difficult for large schools to individualize and get to know their students on a personal level. Tully backed this up by saying, “I felt many times in my school career that the school did not want to deal with me. Many students feel this way and it becomes who we are. I would guess that 90% of the students that get suspended want to be suspended because they do not feel the school wants them there.” Tully went on to say, “teachers are put into a poor position because they are ill-equipped to handle the environment that they are put into.” He shared that he feels teachers need less pressure to teach to to a scripted curriculum giving more time to teach to the students.
“Thank you, Mom.”
To all of you parents out there, you have no idea the impact that you make everyday. Never give up on your children. “I made it through school because of my mom,” Tully said without hesitation, when asked how he made it through his difficult years in school. “She never gave up on me even when I may have given up on myself.”
Thank you, Tully. Thank you for an amazing interview and for the opportunity to truly get to know you. You have made me a better teacher and leader of learning. Every student I meet challenges me to rethink my teaching traditions and the way I do things. You were no different. You helped center me and helped me remember to listen. Have you #listentosstudents lately?