Article mentioned: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_01/29_01_lathan.shtml
During one of my education classes, the class talked about our readings for that week which highlighted some teacher experiences with students that didn’t come from similar backgrounds as the teachers. In this article, an African American teacher brings up the problem of passing children off to more “qualified” teachers based on their race. The only reason these African-American students are sent to the author of the article is because she is also African-American.
The author brings up an excellent point that I don’t think was every mentioned in my class discussion: just because a teacher doesn’t have the same experiences as the student doesn’t mean that they don’t have control of the situation, and it doesn’t mean that teachers can’t be taught how to better empathize with these students’ situations. In my opinion, teacher education should have a large emphasis on how teachers perceive students of a different racial/cultural background and how to deal with any combination of situations they may have to deal with for students of ANY race or culture.
I don’t know everything, which means that what I am suggesting may not actually work in practice, but I think that being able to empathize with students of a different background would help teachers back away from their fear of the “unknown” and be able to better show how much they care about these students’ lives. In my experience (yes, as a white female in a middle class family), when a teacher shows that they care more about my life and my aspirations than they do my test scores, I have more incentive to care about the material we cover because I don’t want to disappoint my teacher. It is much harder to let down someone who believes in you and who really knows you and talks to you than it is someone who only ever talks AT you in the classroom setting.
The problem with this is that I am ONE person, a white female at that, and so my experience is obviously shaped by these factors. I can’t speak on this and assume that it is fact for all students, not even other students with my gender, race or socioeconomic status. Because of this, it becomes difficult for any one person, with their own, separate experiences, to ever be objective when it comes to deciding what is best on a general level. So I can say that the best way to fix this problem is to do exactly what the author suggests and tell teachers to put themselves out there, even if it is uncomfortable at first, in order to show the student that he/she cares, but I can only really be confident that it will work for students who are anything like me.
There is a lot of room for improvement for all areas of the education system, but this one in particular seems to have a conflicting view points for how it should be fixed, and as someone who doesn’t have firsthand experience as a student who feels misunderstood by the system, it is better for me to rely on the experiences told by others. Maybe that’s the problem. Instead of telling teachers how we think we should deal with it, maybe we should talk more to the actual students who are dealing with this and see what their perspective is. After all, it’s their lives we are affecting.