Ed. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition. This is his second post for TEACHER VOICES.
Over the past four years at Envision Academy, I have had the unique opportunity to follow, or “loop,” with my current students through every grade level, ninth through 12th.
Facilitated in part by coincidence (I have both English and social studies credentials and have been willing to teach whichever course the school has needed) and in part by design (after looping with them for three years, I requested the position as their 12th grade World Literature teacher), I have grown with them for their entire high school careers.
One of their favorite jokes usually comes after I make a reference to something from the olden days of ninth or 10th grade, and it goes something like, “Trevor, I can’t believe you have been our teacher for all four years. Why are you stalking us? Are you going to follow us when we go away to college?”
Though their words arrive in jest, they reveal a connection that has been built over multiple years of learning together, a connection that could only have been built over several years, through struggle and triumph and more struggle. Over time.
I have been teaching high school in the Bay for sixteen years now. I have been privileged to develop deep and lasting relationships with my students; have laughed and cried and gritted my teeth with them; have backpacked along the Point Reyes coast with them; have farmed at co-ops in Venezuela with them; have co-presented workshops on restorative justice at educational conferences with them; have analyzed The Kite Runner using the feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalytic lenses with them.
The last time I taught 12th graders, I nearly pulled an all-nighter with several of them as they were preparing for their final Graduation Portfolio Defenses. But my current class of 12th grade youngStars is by far the group with whom I feel the deepest connection – and of whom I hold the greatest knowledge.
The reason is simple: time. One hour per day, five days per week, 36 weeks in a school year, three and one-third school years has taught me worlds about my incredible students (not to mention about myself – but that is another piece entirely).
I know that Raymond leans on his charisma and charm and will just get by unless he is held to high expectations and cajoled to push himself to do his best work.
I know that Dominique works harder and studies more than any student in the schools and sometimes still struggles to earn Bs and Cs.
I know that Jose’s creativity and imagination can take you on incredible journeys when in conversation with him but his pen falls silent when sitting in front of a blank page.
I know that when I pay attention to Gianni for his intelligence and knowledge of history and politics, he never uses negative behavior to seek that attention.
I know that Anthony works two jobs on the weekend and almost always still finds a way to complete his projects and essays on time – and that when he does not, he nearly kills himself trying.
I could keep going and make a list of similar comments for each of the 72 students in the class or 2015. The point is this: relationships are paramount. Trust, care, and commitment are the foundation for strong teaching and learning.
It was largely chance and circumstance that gave me the opportunity to loop with my students for the past for years, but now that I have, I would advocate for this kind of “stalking” to become a model and best practice for schools everywhere.
The only downfall is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing.