NYC Teacher · Outstanding NYC Teachers · Teacher Voices

You Can’t Teach Who You Don’t Know!

(This is a guest post by Isis Spann, an educational coach determined to prove that “high poverty can equal high performance when we engage more with families.” She is a founding delegate of the National Parents Union, FUNdamentals of Learning owner, and author of “Taking the WORK Out Of Homework.”)

In college, I had the opportunity to be part of the Children’s Defense Fund and it changed my entire life. 

During this internship, we visited the Alex Haley farm, learned about the children’s march and why it was important to be part of a movement and not just a monument. They taught us that education was a civil right and that educators and those interested in educational equity had a responsibility to advocate for the students we serve. 

We had dynamic speakers including Jeff Johnson and Susan Taylor talk to us about what racial injustice looks like in this country and why it is important to be role models and mentors that kids could look up to. We ended our time together at the Ella Baker training, listening to the words of Marian Wright Edelman. Out of all of the things she said that day, this one stood out to me most, she said, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

WHEW! I immediately wanted to cry when I heard these words because they rang true in my own life. I did not care how much my teachers knew when my lights were off and I got dressed in the dark. Their college degrees did not matter when I came to school broken because I knew my dad would never show up for “doughnuts for dads.” Their teaching certificates held no weight when I got taken away from my mom and had to live with my aunt and various family members. 

But you know what did matter?

It mattered when my teacher would give me a dollar and send me to the vending machine to buy her and myself a pack of crackers because she knew I was hungry. It mattered when my teacher told me to sign up for the poetry club to share my gift of writing. It mattered to me when my teachers made sure I got the love and structure I needed that I wasn’t getting at home. My teachers must have known that I didn’t care how much they knew, I just cared about how much they cared. 

What a wonderful world we would live in if every child loved school and their teachers as much as I did. Sadly, in this country our students do not feel loved and cared about by their teachers. But that could all change. If you are a teacher or school leader I would like 3-5 more minutes of time to give you a quick fix to filling the hole that is in so many of our kids hearts in schools today. Guess what? It’s not that difficult to do and you only need three items, a tablecloth, a sign and a heart full of love.

I’m talking about knowing your students as a human being. 

In the middle of a cafeteria sat a table covered by a tablecloth and a sign that read “reserved for Mrs. Spann & (insert student names). In 2012 when I became a classroom teacher, I quickly learned that if I didn’t know the student I couldn’t teach them. I don’t mean using the information that you got from former teachers or even the advice you get from the parents about the kid because a lot of time those people have their own biases about the kid. 

NEWSFLASH: Just because Ms. Crabtree and Ty’Quan did not get along does not mean that will be the same story for you. Every kid deserves a clean slate. They all deserve a chance to form their own personal relationship with you. Many times parents only have one view of their child. They know them as the kid, and many times as the student that child is completely different. 

For example, one of my oldest daughters is very silly and outspoken at home but on the contrary at school she rarely speaks and when she does it is to answer a question. As educators, we have to be mindful of the stories that we listen to and believe about students based on their relationship with someone else. 

During our lunches, I got to know my students and the time we spent together was priceless. I would often get fellow teachers asking me, “You are going to spend the little bit of “me time” you get to eat with those kids?”, “Is it his/her birthday or something.”, “You are a show off, Spann.” 

My responses would always, “There is no such thing once I enter this building.”, “No it is not their birthday and I do not have to wait until a special day to celebrate my student”, and “No, boo, I am not a show off, you can go to the dollar store get a cloth, make a sign and spend time with your kids too.” 

Let’s just say after I said my piece nobody ever had a response and I was still the only teacher having dates with their students.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know who my students really are. Knowing what they liked and didn’t like. Knowing who they lived with and who they missed being a part of their lives. Knowing about their pets and how I was doing as their teacher. 

As teachers, we know we don’t have enough hours in the day to learn about our students in the classroom because we are heavily focused on teaching. That’s why I decided to date my students.  During our dates we would watch videos on YouTube, talk about what we did at home the night before and many other topics. They not only shared their lives with me but I shared my life with them! 

Building this relationship with my students through our dates helped build our relationship in the classroom. I didn’t have a lot of behavior issues, my students strived for success and our relationships grew stronger because I took the time to take them on a lunch date. If, as teachers and educators, we are going to uplift this generation and pour positively into the lives of marginalized children, we MUST take the time to get to know them as human beings and not just our students! 

When you KNOW them you can TEACH them!

What do you think?

More Comments