It was the start of my high school career at Jeremiah E. Burke and it was a cold winter day. I was seated in my favorite class that was full of students. That day, my teacher stood firmly in front of the rundown whiteboard that was mounted over the previously existing chalkboard and began telling us about our lesson for the day. I listened attentively as he spoke about sequences and functions and gave us a basic rundown of the course. Thirty minutes had gone by when he abruptly stopped class.
“Listen up!” He said with a stern look on his face. I looked up from the paper that I had started to draw on after I finished my work, as he sat on top of his desk. “How come only two people did their homework last night?” he said with curiosity laced in his voice. I kept quiet and focused on the yellow paint peeling off the walls revealing the old green paint. I had nothing to say seeing as I always did my work and I wasn’t surprised when no one replied. It had become a repetitive thing with my class where most people did not do the work so it was a rare occasion when everyone did their homework.
After sitting with no response for a while, my teacher decided to tell our class about why education is important especially for people of color. He began to tell us about the days he was in high school and the struggles he had. He said something along the lines of “you all are given so many opportunities, yet you do nothing with them. Why? Why allow yourself to fail when you can do so much…Growing up I didn’t have the amount of support and opportunities you all have, you need to take advantage of it because life doesn’t get easier especially for you all being people of color. If you want something you have to work twice as hard.”
From that day on, every Wednesday he began to tell us life lessons and made sure we knew what we needed to know in order to be successful in life. He was one of those teachers that “cared a little too much” some might say, but I think he just didn’t want to see any of us fail.
In all of my other classes you would go in, sit down, take notes, do worksheets and 75 minutes later you’re out the door heading towards your next class. Every single one was the same, but most importantly every class was structured off of the rule that teachers must teach what they are assigned.
Throughout the last 16 years of my life, I have been enrolled in public schools. I think it is safe to say I have had a lot of teachers, many of which stuck to a strict schedule. They had daily objectives and no intention to create relationships with their students.
When I reached high school my view on teachers changed immensely. One of my algebra teachers didn’t teach the “normal” way. Granted he did teach his regular course, but he would also have conversations with his students and tried to inform them, not just drill a subject into their head that probably would be forgotten in a few years’ time.
Recently, I found myself wondering why all teachers aren’t teaching in similar ways. My answer, in short, is that society thinks that teachers’ only job is to teach the subjects they are assigned too. Nothing more, nothing less.
Growing up I never had a good relationship with teachers. I’d always keep quiet and try to do my work alone. I never felt comfortable enough to ask for help or participate in class. Due to this, I struggled for a while. In Boston most of the people I grew up with didn’t have a strong connection with their teachers either. Oftentimes I would hear terrible stories about my friends’ teachers. Hearing this a lot and experiencing some of it myself made me think that all teachers don’t care about teaching students in a way that helps them prepare for the future.
Society has been convinced that a teachers role is to educate students on specific subject matter. Although that may be true, teachers serve many roles in our school environments. Teachers set a tone in a classroom, they help mentor students, listen and become role models. Oftentimes they are on high alert and look out for any signs of trouble. Many people refuse to recognize the fact that teachers are meant for more than educating you on a subject you will probably forget sooner rather than later.
Sometimes I wonder what education would be like if every teacher was more open and had a balance between life lessons and their specified curriculum. That would help students feel like they have someone they can connect with and someone they can count on for advice.
I didn’t always like my teachers growing up, and I’ll admit I didn’t appreciate them much either. I enjoy having teachers who care about me and are willing to go out of their way to teach more than just a math or English lesson, even if it is just once a week. I didn’t have that in middle or elementary school and I wish I did.
When I left algebra that day I felt refreshed and I found myself thinking about the teachers I had in the past. Yeah, they weren’t as outspoken and didn’t talk about life that much, but they had their moments where they showed they cared and they wanted the best for us.
It’s time for society to realize teachers can teach more than just an “assigned course.” If they do that maybe students will enjoy their classes more, I know I do.