Educational Bedrock: The Teacher-Student Relationship
In 2003, the (then) Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) supported teachers in creating a set of standards and corresponding curriculum for a new program designed to both promote the teaching profession and provide high school students with a solid idea of what classroom teaching entails. The resulting program, STAR (“Students Teaching and Reaching”) was instituted as a selective-admission elective for high school juniors and seniors in the 2004-05 school year.
For the past six years, I have taught the STAR class at my high school. I was asked to do so in 2007; my colleague who had been teaching the course switched to our freshman academy. The qualifications for teaching the STAR class include a masters degree and a minimum of five years of full-time teaching experience. I love teaching and gladly accepted.
Despite the reformer pressures on our community school classrooms, the marvelous truth is that high school students still desire to become teachers.
Each year, our district hosts a one-day conference for all of the STAR programs in St. Tammany high schools. That conference was today. Approximately 80 students attended from 7 high schools.
My junior girls.
My girls (both junior and senior) at the STAR conference.
The students participated in a number of activities, including breakout sessions, demonstrations, performances, and speeches.
There was no promoting Common Core, high-stakes teacher evaluation, school performance scores, or standardized tests. No talk of temporary teaching as a stepping stone for one’s “real” career. No racing to the top of anything.
One of the presenters was our district behavioral management coordinator, my gifted and caring colleague, Tamarah Myers. Certified to teach in Louisiana, Myers has 28 full time years in education, with 18 of those years in the secondary public school classroom in both traditional and rehabilitative settings. She is also a state facilitator for the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program and is trained in restorative justice practices.
Myers spoke for approximately 23 minutes on the importance of the teacher-student relationship in nurturing student maturity and included two brief videos in her presentation. I was fortunate enough to view her presentation during the first round of the student rotation, which gave me time to record one of her subsequent presentations and present it in this post for the encouragement of my viewers.
Myers’ keen perception regarding what it truly means to teach– and what teachers should focus on teaching to their students– is well worth viewing for the reform-beaten classroom teacher.
Let me apologize for not doing a better job with the volume– this is my first effort at recording on an iPhone and saving to youtube. In some clips the sound is lower than in others.
Myers’ job involves “addressing significant behavior issues.” She introduces herself as a “teacher of behavior.” Moreover, she notes that all teachers are teachers of behavior and speaks of people misusing the term “discipline” as “punishment” when disciplining involves “discipling”– teaching. Myers declares, “Move over, math and language arts, because behavior is a full-fledged subject”:
In introducing her first video clip to her student audience, Myers notes, “A lot of people discount relationships in education. Let me tell you something: You’ve got to like me to want what I have.” She then offers this TED Talk clip of the late veteran educator, Rita Pierson:
Rita Pierson knew the power of her words and the power of relationship upon learning. So does Tamarah Myers. In the next clip, Myers advises a principal to call a troubled student into his office in order to phone his home to tell his parents that the student had a good week. Therein lies to power to redefine.
Also in the next clip, she speaks of Noah Webster, who advised of the importance of teaching virtues. She tells her student audience, “Nobody ever told me when I went in any job interview…, or any friend I ever made, or any person I ever fell in love with, ‘Tamarah, let me see your English report card….’ I had to know English to get where I got, but what do you think really got me where I got? …My ACT score? No…. It was the virtues. It was the social competence. It was how attractive I was to other people socially….”:
As to virtue: The second video clip Myers shows to her student audience is this story of the Olivet Middle School (Michigan) football team and their decision to purposely not score for the sake of a fellow student:
The young man interviewed at the end, Justice Miller, is clearly impacted by his part in a kindness that no Common Core standard touches and no high-stakes test can capture.
In her closing, Myers talks of a text she just receives from a parent regarding her efforts to offer a troubled student “his voice.” In the text, the parent relays a message to Tamarah in her son’s own words:
In this final clip, Myers speaks to me privately of her last day in her briefly-held position of principal. She closed with this story in her previous sessions, and I wanted to include it with this post. In it, she discusses a visit from a student who at first says he “has a problem” but then confesses the true reason for his coming to her office:
It is not the tests that matter. It is not even the grades. It is the humanity– the love– the authentic human connection– that pave the way for a successful life for our students.
Believe it or not, academic content is secondary to the quality of the teacher-student relationship.
Inflexible, manufactured “standards” and worshiped test scores make for sorry partners in last place.
Tamarah Myers, M.Ed., is available for speaking engagements both inside and outside of Louisiana. She can be reached by phone at 985-960-1331.