As a first-generation college student from a low-income background, I bring that perspective and the related experiences with me to any classroom I enter. I understand that my students come from varied backgrounds and have life experiences and unique challenges that have shaped their personal journey and continue to shape their learning journeys. With each group of learners, I am morally obligated to seek to understand each respective student, their worldview, and what they hope to gain from the class. Without this information, I cannot adequately teach.
At the beginning of each semester, I ask students to answer five questions: who am I? what do I value? how do I learn? what is my worldview? how do these connect? While these inquiries are central to the Bailey Scholars Program for which I act as both an instructor and the sole academic advisor, I employ them in classes I’ve taught outside of the program, as well. These questions allow me to assess each student on what they may already know about the class’s content and what their own learning journey has looked like up to this point.
In addition to the content that is to be taught in the course, it’s essential that students walk away from my class with skills that will help them in all avenues of life: the ability to think critically, how to practice democratic decision making, project management, and the strategies to be a self-directed learner long after they step away from a formal place of learning. This capacity is created by empowering students to take their learning into their own hands. I will ensure that students meet the prescribed learning objectives but how we do it is something to be decided by the class. Will we invite guest speakers? Take a field trip? Read a text as a group? Skype with someone from across the world? The decision is not solely mine.
My classes have ranged from six students to as many as 48. It’s essential that within two weeks, I know each student’s name and some information about them. Students must feel seen and valued and I know of few better ways to do this than getting to know them through the aforementioned five questions,
Students must also feel heard. I make it a point to hear each student, whether they are vocally engaged in class or whether I need to make a point to reach out privately, inquiring if a student has feedback or thoughts via email or text. I meet students where they are.