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The Importance of Connection


I just finished teaching my first classes. I’ve been a substitute teacher before, I was a teaching assistant for a bit, and I’ve tutored one-on-one. However, I never created my own syllabus, designed activities and tasks, and taught my very own class before.

I was nervous, for starters. I’m not sure there is a single educator who wasn’t nervous before their very first class. I was nervous before every class for about three weeks. Every time I stood before the class, I felt they could see through me and expose me as a fraud, (in case you hadn’t figure it out by now in this brief post, I suffer from imposter syndrome as well.) But, what if something worse happened? What if they didn’t expose me and instead, I absolutely failed them, taught them nothing, and went against everything that I talk about – dialogue, connection, reflection?

The past 8 weeks was quite possibly the best 8 weeks of my professional life. Scratch that. They were the best 8 weeks of my professional life. I know that I have many more semesters to come, but my students were honest, open, and vulnerable with me. They shared information that I would have never imagined to share with educators when I was a student (and of course, I know there are a lot of different working parts into this.) I was honest with them as well. I will not pretend that I am a “pro” now, as I’ve only been teaching for a semester after all, but the ability to be honest about my childhood, share with them struggles I face as a parent, a woman, a white-passing person, really seemed to resonant with my students. Some wrote papers about excruciating past events in their personal history, others met with me after and poured their hearts out to me about their time in various systems, and most important, they asked me how theories can help them explain and understand their own experiences. They wanted to apply the material to the real world. They wanted to reflect.

I think we often forget to allow our students to reflect on the material in a very personal manner. I know, personally, I was taught to never use the word “I” in a paper. That doesn’t mean that there are papers where I should be avoided, but I think if we want students to grasp a concept, we should absolutely allow them, and encourage them, to use the material we’ve learned to understand their background. For me, it was astounding the level of trust my students had in me when I was willing to be vulnerable with them. I also recognize that there is a level of privilege I have, as many view me as white, and I understand this privilege absolutely plays into my ability to be vulnerable with them. My students came from all sorts of backgrounds, and one even told me she was very appreciative of the fact that I did not hide information, sugar-coat real issues, and important for many, pander to white feminism ideals.

I will never pretend to understand the struggles of all people, nor will I pretend that I am a seasoned educator, but it was extremely gratifying to connect with my students and hear their stories. Being a teacher is only one side of education. You need the ability to teach, yes, and have the knowledge to present as information to students, but reflection and connection are extremely vital as well.

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