Author: Elea Ensley
Academic Year: 2013-14
Description: Countless minority children grow up in low-income households below the poverty line (United States Census Bureau, 2007). Families living in poverty face stress and trauma on a daily basis (Attar, Guerra, & Tolan, 1994). Toxic stress results from living with violence, abuse, malnutrition, and sleep interruptions, all common for families living in poverty (Attar, Guerra, & Tolan, 1994). Living with toxic stress and trauma can lead to a variety of consequences that show up negatively in the classroom for students living in poverty including poor academic achievement, misbehavior and mental health issues (Brockenborough, Cornell, & Lopper, 2002).
Many teachers do not understand the roots of students’ challenging behaviors nor do they know how to handle these behaviors, patterns that can diminish their capacity to create and sustain meaningful relationships with students (Connell & Wellborn, 1991). Teachers committed to socio-culturally responsive practice, social justice education and teaching with a commitment to an ethic of care, can reverse this cycle for many of these students (Howard, 2001). Caring student teacher relationships can lead to higher academic achievement and better behavior in school (Roberts, 2010).
African-American students are disproportionately represented in students who are suspended and expelled, in addition to being the population of students with the lowest reading and achievement rates (Slavin & Madden, 2006). I want to learn from a teacher who is successful in teaching low-income African-American students. Specifically, I would like to learn from a teacher who builds a classroom of caring students based on an ethic of care in order to inform my future teaching practice. I would like to observe a teacher whose approach to discipline is similar what we learned about in the TTS program at Mills College, inspired by the classrooms described in the books written by Marilyn Watson and Gloria Ladson-Billings. Further, I want to observe a teacher who is teaching in an economically distressed community where many of the children experience toxic stress and trauma, who works to understand what is underneath her students’ behavior and consistently bases her interactions with students on an ethic of care. My goal in observing, interviewing and learning from this teacher is to strengthen my own pedagogy, impact my educational philosophy and cause me to reflect on my past, current and future practice. I want my future students to feel cared for by an authentic teacher, so they can achieve to their full potential.