Monday, February 18, 2013

Advice to a teacher considering working on a reservation

Re-posted from a reply on ProTeacher:

I taught in NE Arizona on the Navajo Rez. HS Spanish...

Some of my kids were angels, but those were usually the ones from a 2-parent household that didn't allow drugs/alcohol, etc.

Most of my kids came from broken homes, partied on the weekends/weekdays, and dealt with things most people don't encounter until after graduation. We lost at least 4 students that year to suicide or murder, not counting deaths of family members.

I would compare it to an inner-city, urban school.   Your heart will get involved, and you will cry often for these children who have had their innocence stolen. Embrace them, and they will try to please you (by learning, behavior, etc).   You will deal with multiple absences for whatever reason, (many of my students had an hour+ bus ride to school one way!  Many suspensions, moving to other cities, etc). There were gangs, certain colors of shirts were not allowed at the school (black, blue, etc)... I kept snacks in my room for "sale" for very cheap so my students wouldn't ditch my class to go to the earlier lunch simply to hang out with friends (because they didn't bring lunch)

Don't be afraid to ask cultural questions.:)  Some things they might not tell you, but if they invite you to a ceremony or event, go! :)

But if you stick it out, the kids will learn to trust you with their lives. They will try to learn because you are trying to teach them; They will try to behave better because you care about their future. They will make an effort in class- or even to COME to class - because you try to make learning fun.

Be yourself, be real, realize that they are most likely dealing with very hard things at home, and LOVE them.
They will respond if they see you are genuine, and if they know you care about them as an individual and as a culture.

I miss my Rez kids, but I know I'm right where I need to be right now :)
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