Think back to those memorable moments of eleventh or twelfth grade. Make a mental list, perhaps a “Top 5.” It’s beneficial for us, as teachers, to reflect on our own high school experiences once in awhile. Not only does it reinforce empathy for our current students, it reminds us how formative these years are and how significant teachers can be.
Is your list complete yet? Do you have at least three memorable moments? How many of them include a favorite teacher or an inspirational coach?
Last year, during our first run at the Apollo program (theappolschool.weebly.com), I was awakened to something that has stuck with me ever since. An eleventh grade student, Deb, mentioned how much she was enjoying the program and highlighted some of her favorite aspects. The best part of Apollo, she said, is the fact that “teachers and students actually talk to each other.” Her comment froze me.
And then I started to reflect. Yes, teachers and students do talk to each other in Apollo, but doesn’t that happen in all educational settings? Don’t each of us in our respective environments talk to and listen to students on a daily basis? It’s likely a fair assumption, but Deb went on to clarify what she meant by “talk.”
“There’s a difference between talking to and talking at. We actually have conversations here,” Deb said. She elaborated, recalling how she and I spent over twenty minutes in a one-to-one environment to hash out her ideas for her project about the Civil Rights Movement. She reminded me that, for a lot of teenagers, sitting down with an adult and looking him or her in the eye can be difficult. To make matters worse, holding a sustained conversation about class work, project ideas, or just learning in general can be unnerving. But according to Deb, “We’re getting better at it.”
Holding conversations, making eye contact, exchanging ideas and even challenging them, was certainly an intentional part of the Apollo program. But until Deb and I talked about the power of conversation, it hadn’t dawned on me how much we undervalue this in our classrooms. I know it’s not possible for teachers to meet with each student for twenty minutes every day—some days it’s impossible to meet with any student for more than a few minutes. But it’s necessary for us to value the power of conversations and to take advantage of those opportunities. Years from now, those conversations could make a Top 5 list as one of your student’s most memorable moments. All because of a conversation.