How My Son Changed the Way I Think About Equity in Teaching

by | 08.2.18

George Christopher is an assistant principal at a middle school in Nashville, Tennessee.

I recently became a father, and it’s been kind of a roller coaster. Among other things, it’s driven me to reflect on my approach to teaching and how I think about my kids at school.

Having a son made me ask myself: What educational experience do I want for my own kid? And the more I think about that, the more deeply I realize that each of my students is someone’s child. And, as educators, we need to see other people’s children as our children, too. I want my son to have a teacher who looks at him and sees what I see. And I have to be that teacher for my students.

I remember when I first moved to Nashville to teach at a low-income school. I was still a fairly new teacher and had all these preconceived notions – there’s this or that problem, you have to be really strict – and none of it was true. I thought I was going to bring so much to the table, but I didn’t have all the answers. I had trouble getting kids to pay attention in class. We just weren’t connecting on the level that I had hoped, and it was showing in the classroom. I felt like I was barely surviving.

Over that first winter break, I reflected and realized I didn’t know everything. But I knew I had to find the answers. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with trying to figure this out. Why do we see inequitable outcomes? I know there’s nothing wrong with the kids. So I started the most obvious place I could: I asked the kids.

I learned what my kids were seeing and experiencing by:

  • Interviewing my students. What about their educational experience is working? What isn’t? What changes would they like to see?
  • Connecting with my students as people. We all need to eat. Sometimes, the simple act of getting lunch with my kids invites them to open up.
  • Inviting my kids to share their lives beyond the classroom. If they want me to understand their families or why a particular pursuit enlivens them, I want to know about it. We can use that to inform our instructional approach.

Fundamentally, I think – if you want to make real, long-term change – you have to invest yourself in these kids as people.

As a veteran educator now, I feel like I have a lot I can share. All of us have an obligation to pass on what we learn. At the same time, we have an obligation to learn from the energy and fresh ideas of the teachers who come in after us. After teaching high school for several years, I’m moving into a role as an assistant principal. I made this jump because I want to help create the conditions for strong connections between students and teachers. I believe that, if we can create an environment for teachers with a healthy amount of accountability, love and support, and if we can foster a desire to grow and learn, then incredible things are possible for our kids.

Becoming a father has helped renew that fire in me to be a leader in my school and make that environment a reality. I know I have to speak up for students. I have to work to be a leader in my school and advocate for equity for all our kids. Every single one of our students is the most prized thing in someone’s life. We need to look at them as special, love them for their uniqueness and encourage them to learn and achieve. Every single day.

But we also have to acknowledge that it’s hard. As educators, we’re thinking about so many things: the kids’ achievement, moving them forward, paperwork, this one thing isn’t working, this and that… But we have to put all that aside when we go into school, because it can affect how we feel about our students. The way we overcome these challenges is through leaning on each other. We need to get to know each other on a deep level so we can grow together.  Strong school leaders in this type of environment can create great outcomes. We can come together to put kids on a path where they are empowered, where they leave reaching for their own goals, believing in their own uniqueness and strength. We need to look at each student as the most prized thing in our lives.

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