I believe that teaching English is a secondary concern to the real business at hand — that is, loving students. Because I am never really sure what other love they’ll get once they leave my room. And because I love them, I know them (or maybe I’ve got that backwards). Knowing my students and (as much as possible) their worlds is the heart of what I do and what makes anything else possible.
I know or try to know my students as individuals, learners, groups, and a cultural community. You have to pay attention so that you can connect the dots between their unschool world and the work we do in the classroom. I didn’t need that when I was a kid, but for the most part I am not teaching me.
“Cultural sensitivity” is redundant when placed after “RESPECT” but it’s important to remember anyway when you teach in my town.
My students are parents, some of them. They’re youngest kids in a line of eight white bread suburban Mormons. They’re AP test-taking, pot-smoking jokers bound for Humboldt, and they’re brilliant young wannabe gang-bangers who get caught cheating on tests they easily could have aced. They’re ELL-program exits who shouldn’t have been, mainstreamed SpEd kids who shouldn’t be, closeted (and less so) LGBTQ kids, products of teen parents, survivors of homelessness, basketball stars who sleep in cars, eleventh grade college football scholarship winners who live on a classmate’s couch, young men whose clothes betray them when they lie about not smoking, young men who don’t bathe, young men with handprints bruised into their upper arms, or fingertips crushed while branding cattle, or a baby carrier on their forearm. They’re young ladies with provocative spring break tattoos, turquoise hair, Jonas Brothers t-shirts and suicide attempts, young ladies with toddlers at home, with dark shadows (or are they bruises?) under their eyes, young ladies who read the collected works of Ayn Rand in fourth quarter of what would have been their sophomore year if they hadn’t skipped a grade.
Teaching is a transitive verb that must take a direct object AND an indirect object. I teach [a great many things, of which English is perhaps the least significant] to these young citizens of Planet Earth. And if I forget or neglect who they are beyond a name and a number in a gradebook, then I might as well stay home and send in the robots.