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Success Stories: Because of the Kids


Because of the Kids

Karen Teel was a seasoned and successful middle school teacher of European American heritage. During her first 14 years of teaching her students were primarily European American, although she did teach some students in the "low achieving" track. Most of the "low achieving" students were African American. She (Obidah & Teel, 2001) said that at that point in her life, "I assumed that these students were so-called underachievers because of their own shortcomings, which were the result of their upbringing" (p. 26).

Ms. Teel then entered a doctoral program. As a result of her courses and observations in some urban schools, her perspective changed: "Based on the literature I was reading and the experiences I was having in inner-city schools, I began to believe that the strategies and materials used by their teachers--not the students' shortcomings--were the problem" (p. 27).

She then decided to return to teaching in middle school to work with so-called low achieving African American students, using alternative teaching strategies that she had developed as part of a research project. These included: "(1) a noncompetitive classroom structure with effort-based grading, (2) multiple performance opportunities, (3) increased responsibility and choice, and (4) validation of cultural heritage" (p. 27). As a result of these efforts, Ms. Teel's students were getting grades higher than they had gotten in elementary school or in their other middle school classes. Students said that they felt supported and respected and that Ms. Teel was fair.

However, Ms. Teel said "there were many occasions when I knew I was not in control and that the rapport between many of my students and myself was not what I wanted" (p. 28). Ms. Teel was "puzzled" by these classroom interaction and management issues.

She initially tried changing the curriculum. However, even when the new lessons went well, the interaction and classroom management concerns remained.

Ms. Teel then took a leave of absence to finish her dissertation. When she thought about returning to teaching she decided that she needed the guidance of an African American teacher to see what was wrong with her teaching strategies. As a result, Ms. Teel approached Ms. Obidah, an African American teacher whose teaching she admired, about collaborating. They subsequently worked together for three years, and addressed many difficult issues related to their collaboration, "because of the kids."

Through her collaboration with Ms. Obidah, Ms. Teel began examining and reflecting on her expectations for student behavior, her reactions to features of her students' communication patterns, and how she exercised authority in the classroom. She reported that she "began to understand that the students' behavior was not necessarily defiant just because it was not what I expected, but represented a different, yet equally valid, way of communicating" (p. 54). As a result of changing some of her expectations and behavior, the relationship Ms. Teel had with her students improved dramatically, and her students became more respectful of her and more accepting of her authority.

Relevant CIP Cultural Question

3.1 Educational Practitioners' Beliefs or Values

Success Stories: Because of the Kids
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