Kori Hamilton is a writer and editor for the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). She has a love and passion for children, particularly those typically marginalized. Her desire to improve the experiences that children have in school led her to pursue her doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Arizona State University. Her hope is that her work in education has meaning and directly touches the lives of children.
Working as a secondary teacher in South Central Los Angeles brought some of the best times in my life. I gained a perspective from students that dispelled my assumptions about their thoughts and feelings. I remember when I first set foot on the middle school campus, fresh out of college and excited to begin my work in the classroom, I encountered a question that I had not anticipated. At least one student would ask daily for the first week, “Are you our real teacher?” I would answer their question with a question. “Whose name do you see written on your schedule?” “Hamilton”, they would respond. “I am Hamilton. And yes, I am your real teacher.”
Educators often find ourselves engaged in conversations about how to address achievement disparities, discipline issues, the recruitment and retention of effective teachers and administrators, but how often do we allow students to weigh in on the subject? Students have unique perspectives that are very real; they live what we theorize and problematize. But who listens- really listens – to what kids have to say? Schools serving students from lower socioeconomic and diverse linguistic backgrounds experience retention problems among teachers and administrators, and often transiency within the student population as well. The impact of retention is reflected in the very simple question, “Are you our real teacher?”
Sadly, our students rarely receive an opportunity to voice how the revolving door of teachers impacts their feelings about or experiences within school. Students are not commonly seen, and student voices are not commonly heard, in meetings and discussions about K-12 education policy. Yet the adults who control policy, including educators within districts and schools, could learn much from listening to what students say about their experience with school, about their interests and desires for learning—and about what they do and how they learn outside formal school.
On a promising note, listening to students does not depend on any particular expertise, and any individual who likes young people and values their opinions can elicit student voice. It takes time, persistence, and organization, but it can easily take place in the context of a classroom or school focus group. The following are recommendations for gathering the ideas from students in order to gain their perspective:
We could learn a lot from students, and schools could be better, more inclusive places if we sought out and valued their input. By providing students with spaces to be heard we might even find that they have much to teach us, if only given an opportunity to share.