10 TIPS FOR TEACHING IN THE INNER-CITY
- Always treat students with respect– Every year I give students a student information survey the first week of school. And every year without fail I have students that write in the comment section “If you respect me, I’ll respect you.” It bothered me that they even had to request this, because it implies that generally teachers don’t treat them with respect. Along with this, be conscious of what they see as signs of respect and disrespect. Several of these are discussed below (learning names, being flexible and respecting their lives outside of school).
- Learn names quickly! Not to single kids out, but to build relationships, and show that you are saying their names correctly and recognizing them as a valuable part of the class.
- Build Relationships- Take time to get to know your students and understand their home lives. For many, they are working to support their parents, babysitting siblings, have little food, and/or live in group homes. This also goes along with why kids fall asleep in class and why they don’t get homework done. If you assign homework, make sure they can do it completely independently, without outside supplies, and be flexible on due dates.
- Build Confidence- Give positive praise frequently, especially to students that are typically under-performing. One really effective thing I’ve found is to send a quick email, phone call, or note home when a kid is doing well and ask the parents to also encourage their positive behaviors. Once the student knows you are rooting for them and recognize all their efforts, they will continue to work hard.
- Be flexible – Realize that because of their home lives, they may have ‘off days.’ While this can’t be okay all the time, try to be a bit accommodating for students to make up work in extenuating circumstances. When a student returns after an absence, be sure to say something along the lines of “Welcome back – we missed you” rather than “where have you been? Why weren’t you in school?” or even “How was your break?” as for many kids their home situation, or their break were not good and this can trigger many negative emotions open up a conversation that you may not want to have during class.
- Use Proximity- Consider ways that you can move around the room more – wireless mouse, more group work and stations, so that you have more opportunities to be in proximity and interact with students.
- Be clear and consistent with expectations, and always be equitable with consequences- Class will run much smoother if students know exactly what to do when they enter the room, when it is appropriate to get up or use the restroom, or when it is okay to chat with their neighbors. If they aren’t meeting those expectations, be sure to be fair and equitable with the consequence. If one student gets a warning for having their phone out, but another student gets theirs taken, they will call you on it.
- When possible, support them in extracurriculars– Many students don’t have parents that attend extracurricular activities due to work or family circumstances. If they see you there and know you have interest in their lives it really pays off in the classroom. Even if you can’t be there, try to ask them about their games and events the next day, or congratulate them, if appropriate.
- When appropriate, try to not use names when redirecting behavior. Even as adults, we don’t like getting singled out for every little thing we do wrong. If you can avoid calling a student out then often times they will respond better. For example, if someone is whistling, instead of saying “Daniel stop whistling” try something like “if whoever is whistling could stop I would really appreciate it” and continue with the lesson.
- Don’t assume a kid isn’t working because they don’t want to- It is highly possible they have tried to complete the work but they don’t have the skills. Many kids in group homes or other transitional living arrangements have been passed from school to school and have very low reading and writing skills. Make sure to scaffold and modify for these students. Also, some students might not be working or taking notes because they need glasses and can’t see the board. Look for cues such as students squinting and ask them privately if they need help getting a pair of glasses.
I started teaching 10 years ago and honestly didn’t give much thought to what type of school I wanted to end up at. After graduating (with student loan debt looming) all I cared about was getting a job. I completed my student teaching in the fall semester and wasn’t hopeful I would find a job mid-way through the school year. I started googling schools in my area and found out a middle school not too far from my apartment had a science position open.
It turns out the particular school that hired me had the highest poverty rates in the entire county. Many of the families were living in shelters or staying in cheap motels. We would send food home with the students on Fridays or many wouldn’t have anything to eat over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and also the most fulfilling job I could have asked for. I fell in love with the students and quickly learned teaching strategies that worked for me and my classroom. I remember my first month teaching I had colleagues mention to me “You need to be mean or they will walk all over you.” It turns out that what those students really needed was quite the opposite. They needed a mentor. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be understood. They needed to feel like my classroom was a safe place for them.
I’ve since moved from middle school to high school but am still teaching in a title 1 district and don’t see that ever changing. Each school and demographic has their own battles and struggles to overcome, and I choose to put my efforts towards helping kids in low income areas. Am I going to get Starbucks gift cards for Christmas or teacher appreciation week? Nope. But I’m getting something far better. I’m building relationships with kids whom many had given up on. I get to help kids be first generation college students. I get to learn and teach humility and empathy on a daily basis. I get to truly make an impact on their lives.
I started teaching 12 years ago, and ended up in an urban district. My education program had a big focus on urban education and social justice, but it wasn’t a particular goal of mine to teach in an urban district. However, I student taught in the city (as well as a neighboring suburban district) and it just happened that my urban cooperating teacher was retiring and negotiated with her principal for me to get hired into her position. I was pregnant (not very marketable), but she worked it out so that I was able to co-teach summer school with her, and she would be the sub for my maternity leave in the fall. I had a good experience student teaching with her, and it was too good of an offer to turn down!
Thus started my urban teaching career! I have now taught for 12 years in one of the poorest, lowest achieving districts in the state. I stayed at that particular school for 5 years, teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science. Then I transferred to a different school and taught middle school science for 2 years. Then as that school was closed down by the state, I moved schools yet again in the same district and taught 2 years of 9th grade Biology. During my last 3 years I have been working in a program throughout the district for students who are behind on credits and are taking classes online that they have previously failed for “credit recovery.” Students are scheduled into a computer lab with other students who are taking virtual courses (but maybe not the same ones). Different subject teachers rotate between the different schools to meet with their particular students, but also to monitor the computer lab and help students (of any subject area). Each of these settings has been a new learning experience for me, as a teacher.
I grew up in the same area where I live, but in the suburbs, rather than the city. The urban environment was foreign, despite being only a few miles away. I struggled at first with what it would take to be successful in that environment, but learned quickly. I am fairly small, and can be soft-spoken. I often experienced disbelief from people that I could teach, or would want to teach, in that environment. However, I don’t believe successful urban teaching is about intimidation or being ‘mean.’ For me it has been about building relationships, and seeing success for students who don’t have a lot of other sources of support, or models in their lives. For many students, knowing that someone cares, believes in them, doesn’t give up on them, and someone pushes them to do their best goes a long way. Many students come from families where no one has graduated from high school before, parents don’t speak English, and they may not have a stable place to sleep at night. Yet they generally want to be successfully at school, and to graduate, despite having so many strikes against them. I am proud to be able to be a small piece of that!