What Our Students Actually Need from Us–A Different Paradigm of Teaching

My students needed me to define myself as a teacher differently.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Steven Farr is Teach For America's Chief Knowledge Officer and an alum of the 1993 Rio Grande Valley corps. Farr will be leading a session on The Evolution of Teaching as Leadership at Teach For America’s inaugural Alumni Awards and Educators Conference in Detroit on July 18, 2013. The conference gathers alumni teachers, school leaders and school systems leaders from across the country fora day of networking and professional development. Travel stipends are available. Alumni educators: register today. This post was originally published on withGanas and has been reprinted with permission.

There are many ways to define ourselves as teachers. We could be the person who makes sure our students get exposed to all the material in the book. We could be the person who works to ensure that we do well all the things teachers do–lesson planning, and classroom management, and leading a reading workshop, for example. We could be the person who is better than the teacher next door. We could be the person who ensures that our students get a particular score on a test.  We could be the person who ensures that students are exposed to opportunities to learn.


A fork in a gravel road in the country, with some trees visible far in the background.


Photo by Mark McKie via WikiCommons

I defined myself as all of those things, at one time or another, as I taught ESL to migrant farm-workers in the Rio Grande Valley.   I think about the days where I didn’t check for student understanding because I was in a hurry to get through the lesson.  (I acted as if covering the material was more important than learning.)  I think about the days that I was going to be observed and I chose instructional methods (cooperative learning was all the rage back then) based on what my assistant principal wanted to see rather than what I thought my kids needed from me.  (I acted as if my evaluation scores were the driving purpose of my teaching.)  I think about those days in the first few months where really, to be honest, I just wanted to get to the end of the day.  My visions of creating a culture of learning degraded into a desire for quiet.  (I acted as if compliance was my end goal.)

Over time however, as I came to realize the full potential of my students and all the challenges they faced to fulfill that potential, I came to realize that what they needed from me was different.  They needed me to define myself as a teacher differently.

The students we work within low-income communities are far-far behind where they should be academically.  In the quest to catch up, they face inordinate challenges and they deal every day with the realities of poverty.  Their schools often do not have the resources to address their extra needs.  All the statistics about our students suggest they are on a path to limited educational and occupational opportunities in life.

Our children need us to change that path.

Transformational teaching is pursuing and attaining outcomes with our students that give us confidence that they are leaving us on an enduring path to broadened opportunities in life.

So many questions and insights flow from that simple idea. . .


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