He towered over me, easily twice my size, shaking with anger. How dare I undermine him, making him look like a fool! Having a very large, angry man only inches away from me triggered me into a calm state that he probably interpreted as uncaring.
He had a habit of misinterpretations and making assumptions.
It was my first year teaching in public school full-time, at an “alternative school” for kids labeled at-risk. He was a fellow teacher who had just come out of a large group teacher-parent conference with the student and administration also present. The student was intelligent, hard-working, and mature beyond her years, and also one of my best students. The counselor expressed concern over her not doing well in my colleague’s class, and he then took a turn talking about all the things the student was doing wrong and why.
When it came to my turn to speak, I turned to the student – who was gripping her mom’s hand – and asked her what she thought or felt, and then held space for her to speak.
This is what my fellow teacher was enraged about. I “allowed” the student to speak. And she spoke calmly, intelligently, and gave important information that brought everything into clear focus, and this focus resulted in him feeling foolish for having made false assumptions.
When a kid is acting out or not performing, there’s usually a reason. There’s a backstory to learn. Sometimes it’s mundane yet still important. Sometimes it’s something horrible, and nine out of ten times that story won’t make you angry; it will break your heart.
In this case, the information changed the tone and focus of the rest of the meeting to one of respect and proactive solutions.
Student voice is essential. Sometimes they are eager to speak, and sometimes they need a coach to mentor and advocate for them to find and use their voice. While our school’s philosophy is all about empowering the student, and we have a learning model that focuses on that, I wonder what more we could do to give students opportunity to practice using their voice. Do you have any ideas?
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