Speaking with An Expert

During this project, I’ve been swerving back and forth through different online, print, and personal examples of what I think a “teacher-as-ally” is. Recently, I was able to talk to an expert in the field, Pam Coke. Pam shared her former experiences as a middle school teacher, grades ranging from 5th grade to 8th grade. She was able to further narrow my definition of what it means to be a teacher-ally to students. She defined an ally as someone who pays attention to and acts for their students; actions speak louder than words, and often times, inactions speak louder than those.

I personally loved this definition, mostly because it reaffirmed what it meant to be an ally to your students to myself. I have spoken highly of supporting and acting for your students. Her definition reminded me that it is important to pay attention to what my students are saying, even when they aren’t truly speaking aloud. There are all kinds of ways students can communicate with you without opening their mouths. This is necessary to pay attention to.

Beyond that, we discussed when being an ally to your students goes too far. It came down to how it impacts you as a teacher. Pam said, “You have to be an ally to yourself to be an ally to your students.” She emphasized how important it was to learn how to say no and give yourself personal time. As a new teacher, it is easy to always want to say ‘yes’, to want to take on every opportunity that you can, but this isn’t always healthy for you. Pam mentioned how she burned out because she was spending fourteen hours a day at school. This is something you need to avoid if you want to be a true ally to your students. “Spending all your time at school means you can only bring school to the classroom.”

These are wise words I intend to follow when I am entering my first years as a teacher in order for me to become the best teacher I can be.

Another Group in Need of an Ally

Along with students that have been bullied, I am furthering my research into another group that needs teacher allies. Members of the LGBTQ community are often the target of harassment and hate, simply because they don’t fit into the mold of what is considered to be “normal.” Much like what I did for bullied students, I had a ‘top-5-takeaways’ to talk about after researching how I could support students that identify within the LGBTQ community.

1. Avoid assumptions

This takeaway stood out the most for myself, considering many people struggle with it. It is key to avoid assuming a student is gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, etc. or to assume they are not any of those things until it is clearly communicated. If a student explains to you how they identify, you should thank them and let them know how understanding you are of their situation. Let them know that you are there for them and that you appreciate their honesty. Until that point, there should be no mention of a students sexuality/identity until they directly mention it to you.

2. Confront homophobia and things similar to it

Much like the ways I explained bullying can be stopped before it is started, the same goes for harassment against members of the LGBTQ community. As an ally to this group of marginalized students, act immediately when hearing any rude slurs, comments, or statements against them. To be an ally to a group of students means to act quickly–this is one way you can do that.

3. Show your involvement in LGBTQ groups/clubs

If your school does have clubs for students that identify within the LGBTQ community, make sure you get involved with their clubs and organizations. Show that you are an ally to their group by participating. You can act as an adviser to the group or contribute in any other way that is benificial to these students.

4. Enforce the dress-code equally across all students

There should be no bias in how the dress-code is enforced within your classroom. If a female-bodied student identifies as a male, you should enforce the dress-code as you would with anyone that dresses similar to him. The same goes for all members and non-members of the LGBTQ community. This will avoid biases and the practice of singling out these students in comparison to others. No school can forbid a male student from wearing typically ‘female’ gendered clothing, such as dresses or skirts, if another student is permitted to wear these articles of clothing. Know this when entering the classroom.

5. Enforce an anti-bullying policy just as you would with other students

Members of the LGBTQ community are the same as people who identify with more ‘normalized’ genders and sexualities. Bullying is bullying. There are no exceptions or justifications of it. The bullying policy present in your classroom must apply to all students and involves you acting fast when you see the slightest traces of it occurring in your classroom.

 

Really, the way you act as an ally to any student, not just one belonging to a specific group of individuals, is to act and support. All students in need of an ally need the support of another; this is your duty as an educator.

Check out the website I used below:

Tolerance.org

Supporting Bullied Students: A Professional View

I previously wrote about bullied students and the ways teachers can become their allies. The websites I used, however, weren’t websites dedicated to a particular professional organization. Today, I searched the National Writing Project’s website for a different insight to how I could be an ally to bullied students in my own classroom. Often times, bullied students have lost their voice because of the treatment they have received. For me, writing is a great way to regain ones voice and to discover your identity as a person. I value creative expression above most things and the National Writing Project offers that to its participants. From this website, I have new ideas of how to be an ally to bullied students.

1.  A child’s individuality is as diverse as the entirety of writing as a genre

The National Writing Project is something that spans all ages of education, from early childhood to the university level. The projects offered through this program/organization focus on creating an individuals writing identity, which is just a brief aspect of what can compose a student’s identity. As an educator, I can provide options a bullied student can focus on when reclaiming themselves and their voices. This is necessary for a child when they feel helpless or silenced.

2. What works for one, won’t always work for another

As I mentioned before, writing is extremely diverse, just like human beings are. There is no one solution that can be applied to everyone. The multitude of projects that can be found on the National Writing Project’s website model thing. As an ally to students, I would be able to work with an individual, one-on-one, to find a project that best suits them. If a student want to journal, I would provide the resources necessary for them to begin, just as I would if a student wanted to write an informative essay about their experiences

3. Give the student a voice

Both of my previous points focus on individuality. This is the largest takeaway from the website I browsed. One such example was a teen magazine produced for teens, by teens. Another was a month long novel project for elementary school children. Regardless, these projects gave a voice to the students that partook in them. Writing is all about the expression of the author. For a student to move beyond the experience of being bullied, it is important that they feel they are being heard. Even if they are the only one that ever reads their own writing, they are still putting their voice onto paper. This gives them the ability to move forward and be heard.

Overall, this professional website just furthered my understanding of the ways I can support students that have been bullied and need an ally. It is important that I have discovered more solutions and ways I can be that ally to a student who needs it.

An Ally for the Youth: Reaching Beyond the Classroom

Much of my work surrounding the “teacher-as-ally” badge as focused around what that looks like in a traditional school setting. However, there are other ways people can be educators and allies to the youth beyond the classroom. One such example can be found in the two podcasts I listened to; people in the medical profession educated the youth on puberty and became an ally that they could trust. I searched for more organizations that act as allies to children outside of a traditional educational setting in order to gain a better understanding of what an ally can be.

Youth Radio, is one example of an organization that acts as an ally to the youth beyond a traditional school setting. Their mission is fairly simple: to set youths on the paths to successful careers and educational goals through work-based opportunities that foster personal growth in creative and academic settings. I enjoyed that the organization targeting kids in low-income and inner-city areas of the bay area and teaches them valuable skills in technology, art, journalism, etc. Better still, the kids learn these skills through hands-on experience rather than a uninvolved,, and typically, unengaging, lecture setting. This one on one learning experience with the children Youth Radio works with, allows kids to receive the education that works best for themselves. Moreover, it is teaching kids to help themselves, shown through the paid internships, jobs, etc. given to the children through this organization. The very centralized focus on the individual is likely to struggle to be reproduced in the traditional school setting. Beyond that, too, students are generally expected to learn the same things as others their age within the traditional school setting; Youth Radio allows kids to focus on a few specific skills rather than a broad scope of general information.

It is this one-on-one approach that really shows what an ally is, beyond the traditional school setting.

Another example of an organization like Youth Radio, is DAVA, the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts. This organization focuses on the youth of Aurora, Colorado, and teaches them valuable life and social skills through an education in the visual arts in order to strengthen the community as a whole. The organization uses volunteers to help teach these children how visual art, or art in general, can invoke social change and inspire personal achievement, all while positively impacting the youth. This approach to youth learning allows young children and adolescences to feel as though they have a voice in a world that seems to ignore them. I think this method is wonderful because the arts, and all things related to them, are often ignored and/or seen as lesser than things related to STEM concentrations. I believe that using the arts to educate to youth allows for more self-expression and an easier discovery of their own voice. This discovery of themselves and the understanding that they can invoke change doesn’t happen as easily within the traditional schooling system for the same reason I mentioned earlier: all students are expected to learn the same things as one another. At DAVA, the dreaded idea of being ‘standardized’ doesn’t exists, which is something I greatly appreciate.

Both of these organizations have shown me what it can mean to be an ally outside of the traditional school setting. While they are located miles away from one another, and provide vastly different services, both organizations focus on the youth finding their voices and becoming successful individuals later in life.

 

 

Supporting Bullied Students: Top 5 Takeaways

Many may argue that bullying doesn’t occur as much as people like to say it does. As a victim of bullying, I can say that it happens all the time, but many children are afraid to speak out against it. I know that I was. Due to my own experience with bullying, I want to reach out and help students who are falling victim to this senseless interaction. It is guaranteed that this will occur within the school I will be employed by and it is my job to help these students, to be their ally

  1. Be observant in your own classroom

This seems to be one of the largest things I took away from the websites I observed and researched. It is necessary to know your classroom environment, including the students that occupy it, to understand when a student is the victim or perpetrator of bullying. Being an ally to students begins with the relationship you have with your students. Once a relationship is established, the ability to detect when something is wrong becomes much easier.

2.  Be supportive

This may see obvious, but when a student is being bullied, they often need a safe space for them to go. As an ally, you should be supportive of students in general; the same goes for students that are struggling with bullying. Students may be slow to warm up or may struggle to talk about what they are going through. An ally needs to wait through all of this and be understanding to the student’s current experiences.

3.  Provide real-life solutions

It is easy to tell a child to simply “ignore the bully and they’ll stop.” I was told this exact advise when I was being bullied, but only after both my parents and teachers were made aware of the problem at hand. As an ally, you must move beyond these general statements to focus on a true solution for the student, be it by focusing on the individual, making the problem known to the faculty, etc. An ally is an active member in a child’s life and this means they actively try to help fix the problem.

4. Stop the problem before it begins

It is key to make sure you create an environment in your classrooms that holds kids to a standard of respect and kindness. If your classroom has the potential to foster bullying, it is likely that it will happen. Your classroom must be a kind place, one that allows students to feel comfortable. Beyond the environment, make it clear what behavior is tolerated and what is not. While you can’t guarantee that bullying won’t occur, there are several premeditative steps that can be taken to stop it before it even begins.

5. Act Immediately

There should be no hesitation when acting upon bullying. Once the issue is brought to your attention, you should be acting. Colleagues should be made aware of the issue, the victim should be provided with adequate resources to help them through the issue, and the bully and his/her family needs to be addressed. There should be no hesitation. Bullying is a very pressing issue within the school systems within this country. There is no excuse for it. As an ally, you act the moment you know that it is occurring.

Being an ally to your students reaches out across many different aspects of school, family, and social lives. This is just one area I was able to expand my knowledge in. Feel free to check out the sites I used to educate yourself further.

Tips for PreventionSupport the Kids

Kids Health

Who Helped You: An Inquiry Into Others

I asked three people (Julie, Kaitlin, and Randi) the same questions I answered in my previous blog post, To a Past Ally, and realized that the names of their teachers didn’t impact me nearly as much as their reactions to my questions. When I asked them which teacher made the biggest impact in their lives, their answers were immediate, taking no longer than a few seconds to be stated. This was the same across all three people that I interviewed and I found it true in myself as well.

Beyond that, they all smiled, a wistful type of thing. I could see each of them reliving the memories in their mind and I wanted to be in their own head, witnessing what they were reliving. Much of what made teacher stand out to these individuals were simple acts of kindness that reached beyond a teachers assumed role. They all experienced teachers that were there for their students not for a supposedly ‘easy’ job. It was the teachers that went above and beyond for their students: bringing homework and soup to a sick fourth grader, taking the time to explain to a young girl that she isn’t her brother—that she is her own person, or

More interesting is the varying ages these people go back to. Julie remembers her fourth grade teacher while Randi and Kaitlin were impacted by their high school teachers more.

Regardless of when, each of them were impacted by the personal interest given to them by these teachers. This is what stood out the most to me.

Through these short interviews, I learned that being a teacher that makes a lasting impression on a student comes from a personal connection. An ally is someone who went out of their way to help their students, depending on their personal needs. These teachers were able to tell these former students exactly what they needed to hear at the time and this is what made such a lasting impact for them. This has helped me to narrow my definition of what an ally is further.

It is my goal to live up to teachers like the ones described by these individuals and the one from my own personal experiences. Hopefully one day, I will have a student remembering a moment with me, a wistful smile on their faces. That is all that I can dream of for myself as a future teacher.

To a Past Ally

Mr. Ponicsan,

I’ve been asked, who was a teacher that made a positive impact on your life? While most people have to think for a moment or two, there isn’t a hesitation anymore. It used to be a singular answer to this question—Ms. Hall. But now, as I have thought more on this question and its connection to the project I am working on, I remember someone else; I remember you. I think that I neglected to think of you as an ally for so long because you became involved in my life during my last year in high school. I was emotionally checked out, but as I think back on it now, you were one of the kindest teachers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life.

You were a school favorite for the obvious reason—kids liked your humor and thought you were the cool kid. What most kids didn’t come to realize is there was so much more to who you were and what you were there to give to each one of your students if they needed it. I was one of those kids. This is why I thought of you when asked this question; you were there for me, an angry, sad, hurting high school senior that felt no one was there for me—that no one understood. I was wrong.

The reason you left such a lasting impression was because of your ability to connect with me at a personal level. We all know how easy it is for teenagers to scoff and brush adults off because ‘they couldn’t possibly understand.’ I couldn’t use that argument against you; you had been where I was, in an even worse situation. You understood how I could be so mad at my dad or at the world in general. You understood why I was always defensive. You could see beyond all of that and see that I was just a hurt, sad little girl. Thank you for listening to me and remaining the voice of a sane and removed adult. You made me listen. You made me look out and understand I wasn’t always going to be stuck in that school. I may not have realized it at the time, but you did cause a change in me.

I’ve already written about this in a previous blog post of mine, but I’ll talk about it again. There was a day, mid-April that we talked. I came into your class, fighting back tears, explaining that I was going to miss class for personal reasons. I can’t remember if I ever told you exactly what happened, but I was moving out of my dad’s house after we had one of the worst fights in our history. It was soon after that day, you sat me down on the benches under the main stairwell of the school and talked to me—truly talked. There was no humor in your voice, only concern. We talked about what happened between my dad and you told me about your own father. I realized how similar we were in that moment, regardless of how many years separated us. I hadn’t thought of the possibility of an adult that understood where I was coming from until that conversation we had. I told you about all of the writing I had done and I remember you told me to burn it.

It’s not surprising that I followed your advise.

I could go on for pages, for thousands of words, trying to explain what an impact you made on my life, trying to explain how much you changed me and saved me from myself, but what I have written here is enough. Know how much I  appreciated you then and now. I aspire to be a teacher like you—to have the outreach on one of my students like you did to me.

You truly saved me and I owe you the world for that.

Thank you,

Alex

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: A Deeper Look Into Allies Through Podcasts 

After my initial posting about what it means to be an ally, I dug deeper into teachers who have shared their stories and experiences in being allies. Most interestingly, these teachers aren’t the traditional models that people would think of. More importantly, they don’t teach traditional subjects. They teach young kids about puberty and sex.
Ah yes, the dreaded subject. Sex. What a terrible word to the ears of every student and of every parent. It is difficult to talk about and often times, much of the pressure of sex and puberty education is placed upon the teachers.

Through these podcasts, it’s shown that much of the sex education given to parents was through a book or from friends (I can confirm both of these happened to me as well; the infamous “The Care and Keeping of You” American girl doll has scarred me). I understand now why so many kids have such incorrect ideas surrounding puberty and sex and how vast the role of “teacher as an ally” can be.

As I mentioned in my first post, an ally is meant to educate and support. These podcasts opened my eyes to how important conversation is in being an ally. The idea of understanding what a child needs to hear rather than what an adult would do/say really stuck with me. Being an ally to students and youth is about starting a conversation. It is about being honest with your students while also delivering the information in an age appropriate way.

I also found it interesting how differently boys and girls react to these sex education classes; this can be applied to any situation in which a student may come to me, needing an ally. Every child is different, regardless of their gender and I need to be aware of this if I plan on being a good ally to my students.
Regardless of the subject, kids will take something away from an interaction with any teacher acting as an ally. One such example is a girl named Eileen who became an active member with Planned Parenthood after attending one of these sex education classes at age 10. She no longer covered her ears at the mention of sex; she didn’t feel awkward about her body anymore; she became sex positive.

This can happen through any interaction with my students as an ally.

These podcasts have opened my eyes to just one scope of topics that a teacher as an ally can begin to tackle. I can already feel my idea of what being an ally means broadening and focusing.

So this is what understanding feels like!

 

Check out the podcasts here:

Adolescent Boys and Puberty

The Puberty Lady

Being An Ally: What Does it Mean to me?

I’m beginning this next badge, attempting to focus my energy in a different direction. I’m putting on a new hat, per say; long gone is the “writing cap” I wore for the first half of the semester and in its place in a new one. It reads “ALLY” across it, in big, bold letters. As a future educator, my role is much  larger than standing in front of my class, lecturing over the American classics or how to analysis Shakespeare’s work properly. I have to remember that all of my students have lives of their own and, more importantly, problems that may leave them feeling uncomfortable or floundering.

This leaves me with an important question to begin my project: what is an ally?

The questions seems broad, so I’ll narrow it down. What is a teacher as an ally?

I can break this question down in several ways. A teacher is an educator (obvious, I know) one that extends beyond the subject they teach. They form meaningful bonds with their students and can often act as a person of great trust and understanding. This bleeds into my definition of an ally.

An ally is someone there to support, understand, and educate beyond everything else. While there are restrictions amongst teacher-student interactions within the schooling system, this doesn’t leave teachers powerless. In fact, teachers have more power than many within their job. Teachers can act as the voice of a classroom, grade, or entire school. When a student is not taken seriously for being too young or for beingunprofessional, a teacher can step forward and use their status and title to help the smaller voices be heard. An ally will help those people could brush aside and stand next to them, powerful and strong.

An ally is there for the difficult times in life as well. As a teacher, I plan on making myself as available for my students as possible. I mentioned early that students have lives outside of the classroom; with that comes very real problems. While I cannot expect everyone of my students to come to me and pour out their heart and souls to me, I will expect that they know they can. This is what makes a good ally. This is what I found in the teachers I made the most connections with.

I want to be the teacher who pulls aside kids to ask them how their day is going. I want to be the teacher that they don’t respond with the bland “good” or “fine” because they know I want to know how they are honestly feeling. I want to be there to offer any information I am able to when they ask me for advice on a given problem. I have experienced high school once. Why not be there to help students get through it themselves?

When I was in high school, there was a teacher, whom I will call Mr. P. He was easily the school’s favorite and I connected with him deeply. On one of my poorer days, as there were many of those during high school, I was asking him how I was meant to get through it all. In response, he held up a hand and gave me a high five. I was confused and annoyed, but he followed up with a brief story:

“Do you know why I give kids high fives in the hall? Well, you never know what kind of a day someone could be having and if my one gesture can change it for the better, why wouldn’t I?”

This made the entire world of difference to me.

That is was it means to be an ally.