So, I’m just going to put it out there – there’s something that I’m really struggling with right now. I have noticed in every building I’ve worked in that there are some who define the students they teach based on the labels that they have. And even more so, the teachers define themselves by those same labels.
Advanced, resource, disabled, ENL, poverty, trauma; these are just some of the labels that can be used to describe the children who walk into our schools each day. And then, it seems that there are some who ascribe those same labels to the teachers who work with students who fall into these subgroups. And those labels also creep into the mindset of some of who work with students who may fall into these subgroups.
I have witnessed situations over the course of my career where a classroom teacher refers to the resource students in their classroom as “your kids” when talking with the resource teacher. I have also seen teachers who work with advanced students refer to their class as “my kids”, sometimes implying that the work they are doing with those advanced students is somehow significantly different than the teachers who work with students who are not advanced. There are a few things that bother me about language like that. First, it groups all of the students with these labels together. It implies some type of sameness. But each child is a unique human being with specific needs, wants, and desires. Second, it sends the message to all who hear it that certain students may not be as important. And third, it creates division among the teachers in a school, which goes against the idea of collective teacher efficacy.
This mindset is something that is hard for me to wrap my mind around – and I think that’s partially because of the role that I had in the classroom. For the majority of my teaching career, I taught science (yes, I taught many other things over the years, but science was the subject that I was assigned the most). In my years, I often had students who had IEPs, ILPs, FBAs, etc. But as the science teacher, I never received support in the form of a push in or pull out. The students who needed additional support had to receive it from me. Now, that’s not to imply that I was perfect. Many times, I had to work with a resource teacher, or an ENL teacher, to have ideas about how to adapt what I was trying to accomplish. Ultimately though, I was the teacher of service for every kid who walked into the classroom. I saw it as my job to take ownership of each and every student.
Was it perfect all the time? No. Did I have missteps and struggles? Yes. Were there times I may have felt defeated and wanted to throw in the towel? Absolutely. But when I kept my mindset focused on doing my best work so that each student who walked into my class would learn and grow, I found small wins that would keep me working to do better.
So, going back to that mindset that some have about “your kids” as compared to “my kids”… I think it’s important that we remember the impact that may have on a student. We may feel that those mindsets are something that we can keep to ourselves, but I believe that students can sense when a teacher doesn’t truly embrace them as a full member of the class. Our nonverbals tell our students our intent. Based on your intent, students will decide if they like you. Students will not work for you or learn from you if they do not like you. I’ve always loved this quote:
I don’t want to credit this quote to anyone in particular because some research has shown versions of it going back to a Zen precepts, Chinese proverbs, Navajo beliefs, and even Ancient Roman leaders.
What I guess I’m looking for is a mindset shift. Instead of seeing students who fall into certain subgroups as someone else’s responsibility, we need to work towards an understanding and belief that all the kids that walk into our classroom, our building, our school system, or even our world as OUR KIDS. We need to be sure that we take ownership of the students that we work with, no matter what label they may carry. Because, as Brené Brown has said, “We all want to be seen, known, and valued.” That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I can get behind. Who’s with me?