Education Should Not Be Restricted to the Classroom

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Teachers need to protect students from community dangers.

Throughout my seven years as a Prince George’s County educator, I have had the opportunity to teach at three different schools. At each school I have learned an immense amount from the colleagues with whom I had the blessings to serve.

But while most of our conversations and interactions were loose, I was still able to take concrete information from those relationships. After all, they say that “the best teachers are some of the best thieves.” As a profession, we borrow and share ideas with each other in order to enhance our effectiveness in the classroom. Over the years, these are a few of the lessons I learned.

Communities raise children

Drew Freeman Middle School in Suitland is where I met Bridgit Artis, a drama teacher who had a powerful connection with her students. I would watch her work with young girls who didn’t necessarily have a strong grasp on their respective identities. To help them gain control, Bridgit would use drama to confront their issues and help them grow as young people. She served as the buffer; to her, education extended beyond the classroom.

Community members often think that if a child is doing horribly in school, that the parents are not present or don’t care. I’ve conducted numerous conferences and witnessed parents overflow with tears. They don’t know what might have caused the grand shift in their child’s development.

There are negative forces outside of the home that parents may not have the ability to catch. This is why it is so important for our communities to help those parents who may not know the difficulties facing their children. Some use sports, others may use church. Bridgit used drama.

Spirit matters

I would visit Curt Cunningham’s art class at William Wirt Middle School and witness a shift in the energy of the room. The room was calm, just like him. He was able to build such strong relationships with the students that they began to take on his spirit. In conversations with him at the Riverdale school, I began to understand that his tone changed lives. He would use art as a way to provide therapy and balance a child’s life.

Curt understood that he was more than an educator; he was a psychologist, sociologist, healer and role model. He was able to teach more than the color wheel; he taught life lessons thru an art curriculum.

From him, I learned that the energy one exudes in the classroom will set the tone of learning. In each situation, we must consciously set the tone. Curt’s room was naturally full of great vibes. He wasn’t trying to create that feeling; rather, he genuinely was that feeling.

Perception determines success

I often hear teachers speak about what our students can’t do, typecasting them before they ever get the chance to perform and passing the legacy of inferiority down to another.  This negative energy becomes the driving force behind the way an educator decides to instruct the student, which in turn lowers the expectations of the teacher and the child.

But Linda Murray, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Temple Hills, has been teaching for almost as long as I’ve been alive and I never witnessed her speak ill of students. Even on their worst days, she believed in the essence of God inside each of them.

They were never called “failures,” a “lost generation” or “misfits.” Instead, they were rough around the edges, needed a little more guidance or deserved a little more re-direction. The moment we give up on our children is the moment we have given up on the presence of God.

Teachers have to understand that we have the ability to change the direction of a child’s life. With a strong and positive relationship, we have the power to alter the path that a child decides to navigate. If we remain diligent, responsive and productive, we have the power to change the direction of this planet.

We are the people who help shape the thinking of the next generation. Every move we make, every word we choose and every attitude we have each day will truly determine the course of the next generation.

Schools aren’t the same, problems aren’t the same and students are not the same. In order to be an effective educator, we must understand that we must be more than a force in the classroom. When we sign our education contract, we must know that we are signing up for many responsibilities that aren’t stated.

We are signing to counsel our youth through tough situations. We are signing up to ensure that they not only pass standardized tests but also the tests of life. We are signing up to be a consistent presence in their lives. We can’t just merely push a curriculum; we must push these young human beings to be more productive citizens.