Since middle school, I have always known I wanted to become an educator. It wasn’t because I had seen great teachers on television or because I came from a family of educators. Rather, it was because of the adults in my K-12th grades schools that I had exposure to. These educators, the majority of whom were women of color and two or three were white, were my safety net. They knew that I came from dysfunction, and instead of wishing me the best of luck, they wrapped their arms around me and planted and watered the seeds of empowerment. If it was not for those educators, I would not be where I am. At twelve years old, I could not have said the feeling was empowerment, I just knew that they made me feel like I belonged and that I was destined for greatness and, and since then, I have wanted to support and empower the next generation.
In recent years of working in a school, the amount of traumatic experiences that students have shared with me are astonishing. In my role as a case manager for a program, Communities in Schools, these students make up my caseload. My job was to make sure that they had the supports they needed to ensure their success in school. Although I was able to network with community organizations and get support, I soon realized that it was difficult for my students to take advantage when they did not have the tools to function well to in their academic classrooms. They were not being empowered by their teachers, they did not have authentic relationships with them, and they did not have anyone to model what effective and healthy communication looked like.
Some educators feel that what happens outside the classroom is not a part of their role as a teacher. The reality is the exact opposite. Students are coming into the classroom with trauma, and their own ways of survival and do not know how to separate home life from school life. In schools, students are asking for help from trusted adults, but in their own way. My office was a safe space. Even teachers would send kids to talk to me instead of directly talking to their students. In order to help students, take advantages of schooling, teachers must be attentive to the behavior messages students are trying to share with them. Educators need to always work to find a way to reach a child, in their classroom and beyond. This is what some of my teachers did for me, they listened and then asked questions to help me problem-solve. Most times this was enough to refocus my attention on school. I could control my life at school.
Fostering authentic relationships and supporting all students is quickly becoming the foundation of my pedagogy. My belief about the positive value of authentic relationships, knowing and integrating trauma informed practices into classroom routines, teacher behaviors, coupled with a whole school approach, students will grow both academically and social-emotionally. As an educator, it is important to understand that we are teaching more than academics, we are teaching life. Because of my experiences as a case manager, I decided to go back to college for a graduate degree in education. I want to be a teacher.
Ray Wolpow and Tom Brunzell’s , researchers who believe that schools can be a healing space for all students, comfort approach resonated with me . I realize that this is what some of the adults in my K-12th grades schools did for me and what I plan to do for my students.
The Comfort Approach is simple: always empower, provide positive unconditional regard, maintain high expectations, check for assumptions (bias)-observe, question, be a relationship coach, and provide guided opportunity for helpful participation.