This month I had the opportunity to catch up with students I taught during my first year of teaching at Howard High School in Wilmington. Now seniors, these college-bound students were excited to share their impressions of the schools they recently visited. One student remarked, “I like that this college has small class sizes even for general education. And I know I ask a lot of questions in class, so this would work for me.”
I hear these kind of comments often – that my students seek an higher education environment in which they can advocate for themselves. I marvel at how much they picked up from the hidden curriculum in my class. Their actions echo the awareness, activism, and curiosity we built during their freshman year.
During my childhood, I had to advocate for my mother who did not speak English. Growing up in a low income household, I quickly learned how social and political systems take advantage of those who do not know how to navigate them on their own.
It wasn’t until I was a teacher, though, that I realized how important it was – or that I had the power – to develop awareness of my students’ internal silent voices. My classroom theme was “Somos curiousos, activitsas, y consisentes.” (We are curious, activists, and aware.)
The importance of voice became particularly clear during a student conference.
I once asked one of my students why he was not doing his work when I knew that he could. He quickly answered, “Because it’s hard. You’re giving me 9th grade work when I’m stupid.” (In truth, he was brilliant.) “Who said you were stupid?” He explained that as a special education student, his middle school experience centered on work given that was consistently three grade levels behind because he was, in other’s words, “stupid.”
This was the first time one of my students had vocalized powerlessness when it came to his own trajectory, and I saw the effects. That conversation changed both of us. As my student learned how to speak up, he went from failing all of his classes to passing every single one. When I check up on his progress now, and his teachers comment on the persistence of his drastic turn around.
Just as I pushed my students to be aware of and engaged in the world around them, I continue to find resources to impact collaboration and learning not only for students and teachers, but for their classrooms and community. My current position at the Delaware Charter School Network allows me to advocate for others as I once did for my students.