The Truth About Teaching “Urban” Students

It shows how you really feel about minorities.

If you inherently believe that black and brown children are less capable of learning, it will show in how you teach. You will assume that because they may be behind that they are incapable of learning complex skills and high concepts. The reality is that they had lots of teacher before you who felt the same way you do, thus creating and perpetuating a vicious cycle of low expectations and affirming learned helplessness. You hopefully will figure this out and teach harder and  tutor longer while expecting more and more. You will do everything you can to repaint the picture of constant failure into one of inevitable success.

You find out just how little you know about your content area.

Remediating students while at the same time teaching grade level content is a daunting task–for them and for you. It forces you to make content connections that you don’t even have. You have to be able to show the how along with the why in a way that exposes gaps in your own understanding. Your success will depend on maintaining lifelong learning. And your ability to honestly say, “I have no idea. Let’s come back to that.” You will become a beast at learning how to do something or understanding the core of concepts overnight.  You will grow to love the adrenaline rush of conquering some new shit then explaining it to your students like you been bout that life.

You realize how underdeveloped your own character is.

Anger. Impatience. Temperance. Consistency. Empathy. Love. Whatever you lack, it shows. Kids have a way of bringing out your worst–even though they do not like experiencing it. Teaching students who come from homes where good character may not always be demonstrated will push your limits. If you don’t know what your problem is, they will consistently help you figure it out. Your ugly places will show; the cracks in your own foundation will grow larger if you don’t correct them. You will hate yourself; you will become guilt ridden.  You will say you are sorry more times than you will want to admit. And then the students will forgive you because they see that you, too, are a human being who has struggles like everybody else.

You learn just how weak you really are.

Most teachers will at some point find themselves in situations that make us say and do terrible things. You will fail to restrain yourself from responding negativity to a student. You will say harsh and unpleasant words to a parent or guardian. You will mean every word that you speak from the bottom of your exhausted, frustrated heart.  Because despite how you feel about minorities in general, you will love every single students as though you birthed them from your body–and you will take their failures and mistakes and problems very personally. You will learn to speak your mind professionally while stewing on the inside. You will forgive yourself when you slip up.  Because these are your kids. And you have a right to be upset because: You love them. And their success is your success; their failure is your failure.

And if you do not experience any of these things that I just mentioned at some point in your teaching career, then I want to encourage you to find another job.  Teaching urban students is NOT for you. Because to be successful at it, you must grow; and growth comes through learning from mistakes.


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