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What It Means as a Teacher to Truly See Your Students

Katie Tedesco (Philadelphia '11) was bullied as a child and credits her teachers with saving her. The lesson? Build meaningful connections with students.  

By The TFA Editorial Team

November 21, 2019

Why Connection Matters

After the bullying became too much, it took the help of teachers to help uplift, empower, and convince Katie Tedesco that she was worth it. Now, as a manager, diversity and leadership development at Teach For America Greater Philadelphia, Katie shares the importance of accepting and seeing students for the authentic persons they are.

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'I See the You In Me'

My name is Katie Tedesco, I use she/her pronouns. I was eleven years old the first time I was asked whether I was a boy or a girl. 

It was in the middle of the cafeteria during lunch, and a classmate came up to me, screamed that question, and slapped me in the face in front of everyone. It was that moment I decided I hated school. I loved learning, but I hated school. I would eat lunch anywhere other than that cafeteria—classrooms, hallways, bathrooms. And before leaving that place, I'd have my books thrown across the classroom and attacked on the lacrosse field in the middle of a game. 

I share just a piece of my story with you to highlight the importance of one thing: teachers. My seventh-grade science teacher and high school math teacher, they literally saved my life. They each reminded me at different times of my love of learning, of the importance of standing for something, and for my responsibility to others to be and do better. So it is no coincidence that years later, TFA would place me to teach seventh-grade science. 

What do you need as teachers to be better and do better in community with one another? How can you contribute to a child's love of learning, of education without contributing to the system of schooling? Connection. 

To do this work well, you have to know who people are—your students, their families, the staff at your school. The heart of this work is authentic relationships. Connect with your students in relationships. When young people believe that they can be seen, they show up differently. It's being able to say; I see the you that's in me. I see you. As Lilla Watson said, it's about recognizing that my liberation is bound up with yours.