The Student Becomes the Teacher

The Student Becomes the Teacher

On a field trip in 2007. My former student is among these boys. They are all older than 25 now.

Last week, a former student reached out to me via an Instagram DM. To be clear, this is a student that I taught in 2007. He is a first year teacher in New York City, and was hoping to get some advice (and to catch up too!). It is incredible to me that after all of these years, he would reach out to me, his 8th grade Language Arts teacher. While I found it incredibly flattering, I also found it concerning that he might not have encountered any other teachers in high school that resonated with him or had as much concern for him as a human.

It has always been my contention that the vast majority of teachers care deeply for their students. And yet, for some kids, the experience of learning from (and with) a passionate and adept teacher is rare. And upon speaking to this former student on a video call last night, I could tell that he was looking to connect with his students and be that “rare” person in the lives of those he serves within his AP US History classes.

So, as we talked, he asked for advice and recommendations for how to engage students while ensuring the rigor of the AP coursework was maintained. Having not been in the classroom for over a decade, I was not sure what authority I should still have for making pedagogical suggestions. I have not taught during a pandemic. I have not taught high school (unless you count the few months I spent at East High School as a student teacher). And yet, I told him that I would try to pull together a reading list.

Here is what I came up with:

However, this former student of mine asked what the modern version of “wikispaces” was (which we had used extensively when I taught his class in 2007). After thinking about it for a few minutes, I thought that the most innovative work I had seen done with modern tools were efforts to create active learning opportunities using Slack, Discord, Instagram, and TikTok. So, after our call, I started looking to see if that was true. And it is. All of the examples below are from searching for 20 minutes on TikTok. Innovative teaching and learning has continued throughout the pandemic. And (some of) it looks like this:

While I don’t claim to have all of the answers for his teaching needs, it was a wonderful experience to get to know this version of my former student. He is an incredible adult and is doing wonderful things for children. I could not be more proud that he decided to teach.

In an effort to continue to provide support for him (and any of my other former students who became educators), please drop me a line if you think there are better books (or better modern tools) to support his growth in the field.

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