As a teacher I admit that there are systemic problems that plague poor students in the educational system. For most of my career I have taught in urban schools, but I have also taught for several years in rural schools. I grew up going to school in a regional school district. There were students who lived in rural areas, but there were also many students who lived in suburban areas as well. In all settings that I have experienced educationally there have been wealthy students and poor students. As my experience has seen these following items and these discrepancies have been between wealthy and poor I want to make the point that not all poor have been minorities, and not all wealthy have been white. I choose the term “urban” not a coded for black, as a physical description of the population concentration similar to the fact that I do not intend to code “rural” as white. In both urban and rural locations there are wealthy and poor. This systemic problem is more than just a poverty problem it is a racial problem as well. Poverty is not exclusive to minorities; however, minorities are more proportionally troubled by poverty. I have observed disparities cleaving between the class structures within students.
Often, the family is known, “Oh, I had your mother when she was in school.” Of course, you can substitute father, sister, brother or any other relation for mother in the above statement. This interation could be positive or negative; unfortunatly positive is most often coded for wealthy and negative is coded for poor. For instance, if you are a poor student, the quote I just described is all that is said because your mother is most likely not thought of highly by the teachers. An interaction like this begins a negative relationship between the teacher and a student. Rarely does this interaction not happen with a teacher and a poor student. This is a negative interaction, starting the year off negatively for the poor student, begins the relationship between the teacher and student with a confrontation and often a sense of dismissal. Often, however, with a wealthy student the conversation does not end with the singular statement above. When the student confirms they are the offspring/sibling of the past student the teacher will glow with a smile and say something to the effect of, “She was such a great student, how is she.” This conversation begins a great rapport between the teacher and student, the student will feel welcome, and therefore, more than likely the student will perform better.
When I first accepted a public school teaching assignment it was in an urban school district, I was excited, but some relatives expressed concern, “that’s a bad school.” I loved it. I have been teaching for going on 2 decades, about 6 years ago there began an evaluation process in Massachusetts in which we teachers need to show that we have become proficient and accomplished 4 core skills: 1. Curriculum, planning and Assessment, 2. Teaching every student, 3. Family and Community Engagement, and, 4. Professional Culture. In my experience, in order to show proficiency in category 3, you, the teacher, needs to show you have taken time to become involved with the students’ community. As such, the teachers interact with parents and the community. The benefit to teachers who carry out this interaction are an allowance to learn more, in an organic manner, about the perspectives, cultures, and lives of which the families they are involved with look at life and the world. Since the teachers know the parents on a personal level the parents are more likely to be involved in the education process and accept the teacher as a positive person in child’s life; thus the students do better. Teachers who take the extra time to engage with the community will gain so much more from students and the students will, in turn, feel better about school so they will engage in the growth.
I reflect on how beneficial the action of teachers who take the unpaid additional time to interact with the students, families and the communities. I also reflect on the current problems between the police and minority communities. I have identified only 1 of many systematic problems in education, it is the same problem in minority communities with the police and justice, there is the lack of “real” community interaction. Police should take implicit bias assessments so they can know what areas within which they need to grow. Often these areas are not acknowledged by the officer, it is engrained in who they are. I do not feel this assessment should lead to “sensitivity training” as though the officer should be ashamed of who they are; shaming anyone will not lead to productive results, only resentment. The results should not be shared with their superiors. The police should have the results of their assessment to reflect upon, discuss the results with someone who they trust and who has reference to the topics so they can grow and benefit in an organic way.
What next? Well, it’s not a next, it should be a constant: before, after, and throughout the employment of all police officers. Especially having the results of the implicit bias assessment, the officers can use the information to focus their progress. Police officers should, on a regular basis, spend time in the community in which they work. Police officers should talk with the people in the community in which they work. Police officers should take part in community meetings, shop in the community, and get to know who the people they work with are all about in the community in which they work. Police officers should go to religious services of different religions in the community in which they work. Police officers should volunteer to help out in social outreach opportunities in the community in which they work. Police officers should do all of this out of uniform and without their gun in the community in which they work. Building trust is beyond important, the police need to trust the community and the community needs to trust the police.
One of the lessons I learned from my experience as a teacher is that interacting in a real, meaningful way with the community and parents of the students has given me great results with making an impact on students’ lives. Beyond the community, actually listening to the students: listening to how they feel about their lives, listening to things happening in the community, and listening to how they personally interact with the curriculum justifies that I am someone the students can trust and rely upon. Once I learned this lesson, and I figured out how to gain it, I learned another thing; it is not time consuming and easy to do.
I hope police officers can begin working within the community in which they work so they can have a better relationship with the community in which they work. The police officers should listen to the members of the community in which they work to hear about the lives of the people in the community in which they work. Listening to the stories of the lives of community members would make the interactions between the police and the community stronger. My suggestion of the implicit bias assessments: I wager that if the police officers were regularly involved with the community in which they work they would have better results and feel better about the community. An implicit bias assessment expresses things that have grown within a person through life experiences that shapes the way they view the world and people within that world. If the police officers are regularly interacting with the community in which they work, they will perform in a more positive way on the implicit bias assessment. If the police officers are regularly interacting with the community in which they work they will feel better about community members they are responsible to work for. If the police officers are regularly interacting with the community in which they work they will be less likely to act hateful toward the members they are responsible to work for.
Listening to the people you work for and getting to know who they are is a strong way to understand who they are, especially if they are different than you; you will grow and be a better person.