Students teach educators about their interactions

by Bob Gaetjens | editor Published:

It's not often students have the chance to teach teachers, but that's what happened Dec. 7 when nine Streetsboro High School students took part in "Anti-bullying in Schools," a conference at the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron.

The students are members of Streetsboro Diversity Alliance, a club advised by Streetsboro High School teacher Amanda Hudnall.

The conference, which was coordinated by Dr. Christa Boske of Kent State University, attracted teachers from 20 area districts, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Hudnall said the goal of the conference was to help teachers find way to connect with and relate to students so they are able to teach in a way that appeals more to students of different backgrounds.

The students' role in the conference was to provide insights teachers can't provide.

"We were able to tell them how we think about things and what we do interacting with other students that they don't see," said Malia Robinson, a junior at Streetsboro High School.

Hudnall said many subgroups of students are marginalized in the education process if they don't fit into teachers' preconceived notions about their students' backgrounds.

These assumptions represent subtle prejudices that teachers ought to constantly strive against, added Hudnall.

"They just feel marginalized," she said. "It's just American society, in general. It's hidden; it's not blatantly admitted, but it is present."

Josh Reyes and Cole Smith, both Streetsboro High School juniors, said something as small as how teachers behave between classes can influence how approachable they seem to students.

"It's just the way they interact with the children and even other teachers, [holding] conversations they think we don't hear," said Smith, adding even body language can send a message to students between classes.

A high level of comfort and familiarity between students and teachers translates into better teaching, said Reyes.

"If they know how you function, how you think, it helps them teach information to you and make things more interesting," he said.

Prince Franklin, another Streetsboro High School junior, said little things, like allowing students to snack during class, make a difference.

"If I'm hungry in class, I'm not going to be able to learn; I'm going to sit there and look forward to lunch," he said.

Developing trust with students also is important, said Smith. He said he's got a good, trusting relationship with Hudnall, which means she understands him well.

"I know any time throughout the school day I can come in here if I need to," he said. "I know Miss Hudnall can help me understand whatever my issue is."

The students also described ways in which teachers can feel marginalized by the expectations of society. For example, they said they were interested to learn that several teachers at the conference wouldn't feel secure in their jobs if they placed a photo of their significant other on their desk because they are gay.

"You should respect other people's choices," said Smith.

Hudnall said finding ways to connect with students is just the first step in providing them with an interesting, real world education. Teachers then have to take what they learn about students and use that to make their lessons as relevant as possible for them.

"If there's no connection between what the child knows outside of school and what they're learning, retention doesn't occur," she said.

Email: bgaetjens@recordpub.com

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