Last Friday evening, @TeensTakeChargeNYC offered an evening of testimony from NYC students. It was an opportunity to learn about educational inequity through the eyes of students.
As a staff developer who travels around New York City to support teachers in building community and social-emotional development, I often hear teacher’s interpretations about what students need. However, I’m increasingly curious about student perspective. Through my interactions with students during after-school and individual coaching sessions, I realize no amount of training has prepared me as an educator in the 21st century.
There are so many factors I can’t begin to understand (Snapchat instead of passing notes, applications for public schools that involve literal hours of commuting, etc). Hearing from students about their frustrations, questions and concerns is the only way I’ll gain valid insight about how to truly support them.
Once settled in at the Bronx Library Center, I began to take part in the interactive activities the students planned…reflections on sticky notes, 4-word descriptions of education and a personal letter #towhomitshouldconcern sharing my frustrations with the education system ABOUT the education system.
One activity was especially challenging. I sat next to a fellow educator, noticing both frustration and slight anxiety when asked to visually represent educational inequality. I was stumped. A warm wave of guilt washed over me as I thought back to the multitude of assignments I’d created for my students with flippant expectations that it’d be… easy.
I took a deep breathe and came back to my senses. I realized I was fighting an impending ache at my left temple, most likely a result of forgotten lunch or dehydration.
Noticing my hesitation, 2 high schools students offered some gentle encouragement and a modification to the assignment — do whatever you need to do.
Let’s start listening harder to the people that know what works best.
The only way to be an effective educator is to understand how students are affected by their learning experience.
There are 92 public library branches in New York City willing to host this student-led event. Here’s some more information about this coalition of youth leaders.