In a memoir titled, Between the World and Me, one of my favorite modern authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates, recalls and analyzes the harsh realities of being black in America. One particular story that Coates shares about being a young student growing up in Baltimore contributed greatly to my teaching philosophy as a new educator. Coates described a paradigm that he and many of his peers held in regards to their lives, essentially believing that they had to live in a constant mindset of survival. For him, there were unwritten rules of life in the inner city that children became privy to through daily experiences and conflicts. Failure to learn these rules would prove to be detrimental. “I recall learning these laws clearer than I recall learning my colors and shapes, because these laws were essential to the security of my body,” Coates explained. This is the reality that faces many students on a daily basis. Their livelihood takes the front seat and anything else isn’t a priority. So in order to be an effective educator, I know that I need to be mindful of this reality and work through with instruction that sets high expectations, helps them realize their potential, and empowers them to be advocates for themselves and their communities.
Although these everyday stressors can make it challenging for students to learn, that in no way means that they do not have the ability to be successful in school. People have been able to balance survival outside the classroom and academic excellence in the classroom despite said challenges. This is in part due to their resilience as well as the support they received as they matriculated in their education. A large portion of that sort of support should come from their teachers. As an educator, it is my responsibility to ensure that my students are able to find that balance. I will expect nothing but the best from them because they should expect that of themselves. Instilling that desire early on to continuously do better will help develop that resilience in them. And in my expecting greatness from them, they get to see their limitless potential to do and be whatever they desire. It may start with me, but my hope is that it will begin to resonate within them as well and they will begin to advocate for themselves. They’ll be able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work towards improving. It is my belief that these principles of high expectations, realized potential, and self-empowerment will be what bring out the best in my students.
As an educator, I want to be that support that helps motivate and inspire my students in to become life-long learners. It is not enough to simply acknowledge that these students may have a great deal of troubles to deal with outside of the classroom. These circumstances should be taken into consideration when deciding how to teach them in a way that they can retain the book knowledge just as much as they retain those daily laws of survival. This means teaching the content in ways that are practical, logical and applicable. This also calls for me to make a concerted effort to connect with my students and show my genuine desire to see them reach their highest potential. These are my expectations and what will drive me to be the most effective teacher I can be.