During Chris Elliott’s first year of teaching, he thought he was going to change the world.
Yeah, he knows how that sounds.
Actually, he admitted, those first few weeks were a disaster. It wasn’t until he took the time to get to know his students — their lives outside the classroom, their families — and got over his preconceived ideas about them that he was able to build relationships that could last.
Elliott’s watershed moment came that first year after meeting the family of a student he called Jada. He told that story at a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, and Big Car Collaborative.
Here’s an excerpt of his story that has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
My first day in the classroom …. it was a hot mess. It was about as bad as any first-year teacher could ever experience. I had trouble with classroom management.
As the weeks went on, I got slightly better — just moderately awful, not extremely awful. So I started talking to my students, getting to know them a little bit more, starting to be a little more authentically myself.
I met one particular student, and we’ll call her Jada. So Jada, she had given me the most amount of trouble out of anyone in my class. At one point, I did say, when I went home, I said, I hate this girl. I absolutely hate her. She was making my life a living hell.
About mid-way through the semester, I went to her home and met her six sisters, two cousins, and her mom, who was raising them all. They lived in a one-bedroom house.
That was the moment where I kind of just stopped myself in my tracks
I no longer was able to ever have the thought process of “I hate a student” or “This student is making my life a living hell,” mainly because I, in my white privilege, had never experienced what she was going through. She slept on the floor with her cousins, and then the rest of them split between the bed, the couches, and the floor.
Fast-forward a few more weeks, we had developed a relationship at that point. She was one of my favorite students. We all have that favorite student that we know is going to make an impact in our life.
She came to tutoring every day. She got better, she improved. One of these days her mom came to pick her up, and her mom was actually going to the Excel Center, she had never gotten her high school diploma. She came in asking for help on math — she knew I was Jada’s math teacher. So I helped her, and the next day, Jada came in, her mom came to pick her up, and she asked another question about math.
Fast-forward another two weeks — not only was I tutoring Jada, I became a tutor for Jada and Jada’s mom.
Check out the video below to hear the rest of Elliott’s story.
You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.