Stalking An Invisible Predator

Elsummeronline06_2 Summer Educational Leadership author Grace Sussman investigates her own cultural responsiveness in “The Violence You Don’t See

The last story you want to hear on your evening commute–a report that violent crime is rising faster than it has in the past 10 years. Some of you see the footprints of this phenomenon across your school communities. Grace Sussman thought she saw the hallmarks of a more violent culture when she switched from teaching in the ‘burbs to teaching in the city. Instead, she discovered a more insidious, unreported violence was alienating the highly resilient students in her classroom.

Sussman’s journey into the lives of her students started with an investigation of the roles of violence in their lives. Six critical questions and several classroom conversations later, she found herself facing her own assumptions:

From my conversations with my students, I expected to learn about the meaning that violence held for them, as well as about their social dynamics. I expected that I would then design new teaching strategies or include social skills as a curriculum piece. But the study held a surprise for me: It pointed out my ignorance of my students’ lives, cultures, and values. I had assumed that my students were more like me than they actually were.

The first revelation came while administering a standardized achievement test. I read the title of the reading section: “Cross-Country Skiing in the Hills.” I almost dropped the booklet. I felt like a traitor, encouraging my students to do their best while presenting them with a Sisyphus-like task: to score proficiently by grasping the nuances of an unfamiliar activity. Skiing was as foreign to them as navigating rough city streets would be to me. I looked at them, poised at their desks with sharpened pencils, ready to take the test, and I felt ashamed. Despite their intelligence and eagerness to do well, the deck was stacked against them. They would do poorly. Worse, they would be blamed for it (Ryan, 1971).

Sussman says that “cultural nonresponsiveness” can be a kind of violence in the classroom. Do you agree? How can teachers become more culturally responsive to students?


  1. The author’s example of the cultural bias of standardized tests and her careful unraveling of the cultural meaning of her students’ behavior illustrated in stark detail the failings of NCLB and our current approach to education in urban America. Rather than wasting continued time – and lives – by assuming that content knowledge makes “highly qualified” teachers we need to allow educators to explore topics of meaning with their students as was done here.

  2. You have really gained a valuable insight into the real world of young people. That is a personal and professional respect for who they and their families are. When they learn that you care and value them ,they will care about learning.

  3. Grace Sussman has hit us where we live in urban schools. In my district we have been seeking an answer for several years not only to ‘how to enable teachers to become culturallly responsive’ but ‘how to build capacity of culturally responsive teachers’. We read about and discuss cultural influences and their reflection within the classroom but this serves only to increase our intellectual awareness and perhaps some efforts while missing the ‘heart’ of our goal. Grace’s strategies appear to have hit the heart.

  4. I thought I was reading my story. I’m white, I operated a day care in a previous life, and I’ve been teaching in a Philadelphia elementary school for the past four years, and Ms. Sussman’s experiences and thoughts and feelings are just what I’ve been thinking and feeling. To have someone put into print the feelings and frustrations I’ve had is so…. freeing, somehow. I’m not alone.

  5. This is an excellent article addressing inner city school culture. I took from Grace Sussman strategies that can be applied to a predominantly white upper middle class suburban school such as mine. Our challenge is embracing and connecting with minority and lower socio-economic students or any students who enter our school feeling different, outcast, and disconnected. Discovering students’ lives and culture through their stories seems common sense, yet we need to remove the barriors that prevent our faculty from achieving that goal.

  6. I teach in a predominantly white, rural, K-8 school and found a great deal of relevance to my situation from this article. The first thing I plan to do is stop correcting the language my kids hear and speak at home. Rural America has a rich language and culture too. All in all isn’t Grace Sussman just teaching us some baic respect for children? We have them with us six hours or more a day; they deserve our respect. I call on schools of education to teach their candidates for principal and teaching jobs how to respect and learn students from varying backgrounds.

  7. The author is right when she emphasizes on knowing and understanding students culturally and cognitively. Effective teaching cannot be reached without considering these two important parameters of teaching and learning. They are necessary for urban schools to achieve excellence. Content knowledge can no longer be the only element to consider in determining a qualified teacher for urban schools. Effective strategy of teaching in urban and multicultural school community cannot ignore the importance of cultural awareness by all school practitioners.

  8. In my twenty eight years of teaching students of various grade levels, ethnicities, and social-econmic levels, I find that developing a community of trust and respect in the classroom to be of utmost importance no matter what age level or social class.
    What strategies do we use to develop this trust in our own classrooms? Grace Sussman developed trust by taking the time to listen to her students –which validated them as individuals. She got to know them,their parents, and culture through conversations at recess and lunch. By learning her students culture,she showed she valued her students; and by displaying her students’ work and creating bulletin boards that honored her student’s history, she showed she respected their culture.
    I also commend Grace Sussman on her great fortitude in thinking and ACTING outside the box. How many of us would have given into pressure from peers, principals, and administration to keep teaching with worksheets -especially those designed and guarenteed to help pass state tests?

  9. What Sussman learned was that she too was an agent of “cultural non-responsiveness” the unwillingness of school administrators and teachers to take the time to get to know and understand their students. As a result, students disengage from the learning process, teachers assume that students do not want to learn, and classroom management becomes job one for the teachers and administrators.
    I used to teach at a charter school that required teachers and students to circle up every morning for thirty minutes. This time was called “Crew” and our motto was “We are crew not passengers”. The time was meant for discussions, check-ins, team-building, and getting to know one another. For most students and teachers, this was a favorite class. I now teach in the district at a traditional school. Although the administrators would agree that getting to know one another is an important goal to build a strong school-wide culture, at present, teaching content is job one. There is certainly lag time in what research suggests is best practice and what is actually prioritized in public education in the United States of America.

  10. Standardized tests that teachers are asked to use as basicly THE ONLY determination of a student’s achievement are filled with bias. It is a type of bigotry that is particularly harmful because it is secretive and stealthy. Teachers aren’t supposed to discuss the questions with ANYONE or they risk losing their credentials and their jobs. Parents never see the questions unless they are later released. And yet, important decisions, like grade retention and placement in classes, are being made based upon these tests. The SATs are like this, too. If you look at the break down in scoring, you’ll see a huge gap in achievement….but is it an achievement gap, or is it a biased test? I remember a state writing prompt a few years back that was (thankfully) thrown out. It asked students what they would like to do on their next ‘snow day’ (!) Can you imagine? My daughter is a typical sixth grader – but we live in the middle of the desert! The people that design these types of tests need to be more culturally sensitive to ALL students, and we, as educators, need to keep reminding everyone that these tests are only ONE measure of achievement, and that a standardized test shouldn’t be the sole basis of a decision to hold back a child, or to continually place a child in remedial classes.

  11. Sussman points out some very crucial aspects for creating a classroom where students can succeed. I have only been teaching for two years, however I immediately saw the benefits of getting to know my students as individuals. I found that when I knew their interests, their struggles, and their strengths, I was better able to meet their needs at school. It is difficult to learn the realities of our students’ lives because they are often unpleasant, far from ideal, and can seem hopeless. That is why it is crucial for teachers to help students build communication and confidence so they can feel hope about their future. Getting to know my students, and building relationships with them, has proven to be more successful than any ‘discipline’ plan I have encountered.

  12. I opened this article ready to respond out of my 20 some years of experience working with kids “in the ‘hood.” I thought it was going to be another of those “you don’t know what we have to put up with,” articles about why nothing can be done with poor kids because they can’t act right.
    What I found instead was a teacher who truly knew her stuff, and used it to help understand an unfamiliar landscape. Her framing of six questions to explore within a timeframe, and specific strategies for getting at answers–and LISTENING to her students, brought her into a mutually respectful relationship where teaching and learning were possible.
    I observe that she trusted her knowledge and years of experience while also identifying that she had to learn about her students to be able to apply her teaching skills.
    As a white lady working with minority/low-income folks in a variety of situations, I have found that one barrier to overcome is the expectation that my behavior/understanding will reflect separation, low expectations, etc. Talking and sharing is one powerful tool–not explaining who I think I am, but just some honest person-to-person comments about family, or how things are going that invites the other person to come back in kind.
    The other powerful tool with children is assuring a secure situation–clear boundaries, meeting basic needs for order and comfort(having meals with children is a wonderful opportunity). When I show that I am a trustworthy adult–like others that they have known, I am less likely to be seen as a stereotype of myself.

  13. Until we listen to children to find out what they are thinking we cannot take them from where they are into new worlds. We don’t know where they are and that is where we need to start. Sussman’s open-ended questions are a critical tool to listening to children.
    As a literacy coach for pre-k classrooms in a major city school system, I was one of many coaches to deliver an observational instrument (ECERS-Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale) in 9 classrooms. This instrument requires the observer to spend 3 hours observing in a classroom of 3-4 year olds and then to rate the room on 47 different aspects of the child’s day. Another coach and I compared notes when we had spent a total of 57 hours in 19 classrooms (3 hours each classroom). Of those 57 hours the two of us had only observed teachers asking children open-ended questions and listening to their answers for a total of 2 hours.
    With NCLB insisting on teaching to the test, teachers feel they are being told to teach decoding skills before children have developed oral vocabulary and understanding. If we do not allow children to speak and we do not listen when they are learning to speak, it is no wonder their comprehension skills are non-existent when they start to read.
    Betty Hart and Todd Risley’s research found that children living in poverty homes with loving parents were surrounded by very little conversation compared to those in professional families. This seems to be equally true in classrooms. Sussman points the way. Will we follow?

  14. The care and concern you had for your students showed in your approach to teaching them. I am really impressed with the way you assessed the situation and created a new environment that was least restrictive and conducive to learning.

  15. I had a similar situation teaching in Immokalee, Florida. The students didn’t have many of the experiences that were reflected in the state test. Student had never seen or experienced snow since they came from and lived in a temperate climate. I spent half a day explaining snow, and what cold weather feels like. Not only were the students’ not prepared for the experiences in the test, they were also english learners of a second language and were only allowed to take the test in their native language for the first two years. After that they were expected to take the test in English. Studies have shown that language aquisition takes much longer than that. I wish there were alternatives for testing these students that didn’t set the students up for failure. When they students’ then don’t succeed on the test, they then feel like failures. They begin to see themselves as unable to succeed in school.

  16. What a tremendously thought-provoking article! Our district recently held a number of inservices to help us start to grasp the level of poverty in the community in which we teach. This was a good start to sensitizing us to the difficulties our students deal with, but after reading this article, I see that I have a great deal more to do if I am to really begin to understand my students deeply.

  17. I agree that we should be actively aware of the cultural environment of our students. For one of our professional developments, our high school had us take a tour through the communities in which our students reside. I teach in a rural/ suburb area with a very small percentage of minorities and poverty. Yet I was still struck by the diversity of low income housing, trailer parks, and “McMansions”. This made me realize that just as it is harmfull to be culturally unresponsive to your students, it’s worse if you somehow allow it to be an excuse of why your students struggle with standardized tests or in general, achievement. The harsh reality is that we are preparing students to be successful participants in the global community that is just as diverse and sometimes a bit culturally insensitive. It is how we adapt and ovecome to achieve. Just because you have never have been cross country skiing does not mean you won’t understand the text. That’s like the “white knight” syndrome! It is important to make our instruction relavant to their daily lives but it is also important to show them that there is a lot more to it than that.

  18. I agree. It is our jobs to know about the students we teach and their backgrounds and to make sure that we can provide the best education possible. I think that as a teacher you cant establish a strong rapport with your students, as much as you might try, without first truly knowing where they come from.

  19. I was surprised by so of the similarities that I see within the school in which I teach. As a staff, we consider ourselves as generally empathetic to the needs of our students. However, I recognized many of the attitudes expressed in your article in our school. I don’t think that it’s intentional, I think it occurs partially because teachers are not always as aware of their students as they believe that they are.

  20. I was very impressed with your article. Understanding the cultural environment of our students helps us learn about them.

  21. I have worked in a city elementary school for 8 years, and I agree with many of the strategies you mention in this article. Home visits are essential for a teacher who doesn’t live in the neighborhood in which she teaches. The idea I tried to keep in mind when visiting was that I was a guest in someone’s home; this was not just an anthropological study. I would mentally note the aspects of the home environment that would both impede and support learning and growth. Some homes frightened me, but in most I found evidence that children were loved and that family was important.

  22. I thought the article was very insightful as I do teach at a school where a lot of inner-city children are bussed in to the suburban school. When I first started teaching there, I honestly can say I did not understand where my students came from and some of the unthinkable things children their age may have to deal with. I was thankful some students opened up to me as the months went on, but I think I would have greatly benefited from a trip to their neighborhoods and houses to really grasp how they lived.

  23. I think this was an excellent article. I know I have felt extremely pressured in the past when I accept things with “poor” grammar, spelling, or slang. This article was good for me to help put things into perspective. It also makes me sad about the push for content and not for conversations like the ones in the article.

  24. This article just reinforced the answer to my question “Why am I starting a morning meeting in my classroom?”…Now I know why. To get to know my students and allow them to get to know and interact with each other in a social manner in addition to an academic manner. I am hoping this will help foster the “free zone” that Sussman talks about. It will give me more of an opportunity to listen to students and provide means for getting to know them in other ways as well. At first, I was unsure about the “home language” part of Sussman’s article, but as you read later, she points out that she teaches her students that there is a time to learn skills that will put “cash in your pockets” which I found to be a good way to explain this concept of when to use your home language in the real world and when to use the skills you have learned in school.

  25. What a moving article. Isn’t it amazing how blind educational law-makers and we, as teachers can be? Sometimes we forget that the purpose of education is not to jam our heads full of facts so that we can score well on standardized tests, but to lead productive, happy, healthy lives. Whether those lives are lead in Harlem or Greenwich is of no consequence.

  26. Helping all students succeed is something that we hear about in books from our undergraduate work. We do not realize how hard it is to have students respond when they have so many influential factors facing them. I think what it boils down to is their trust. They have not had people they trust to look at them and say they can succeed.
    Letting the students know it is ok to “let their guard down” is imperative for a successful educational experience. If we are not able to be “ourselves”, how do we expect students to relate to the material and make sense of the curriculum? By showing the students that we value their homes, lifestyles, and experiences they bring to the classroom, we become culturally responsive and acknowledge their differences. As teachers, we accept them as not merely students in a room, but individuals and human beings in our classroom.

  27. Sussman’s experiences are inspiring and remind me of ways that I can see into students’ lives. One being the bulletin boards and decorations in the room… they do tend to reflect who we are as teachers as opposed to who our studnets are and how they see themselves. I admire the changes she made instead of attempting to put their urban peg in the suburban whole she was used to.
    What’s more is she gave the students such ownership in their learning – through “free zone” conversations, activities, and being aware of the importanct of language. Not stifling their words or experiences brings about a trust that fosters learning.

  28. Wow, just wow! I’m so glad I read this. Like the author I’ve taught in many different settings and now am in a title 1 school and am so glad to be there. This article actually made me cry and also once again think of Michael Jackson. Until you understand where a person came from and the life experiences they have been dealt with everything else comes second. I’ve made trips to some of my students’ homes and am glad they feel comfortable to open up to me. I think before jamming an ‘education’ down our childrens’ throats we first need to really show we love and care about them as people and understand where they’re coming from. Some of my own life experiences have made me more sensitive than others to this. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind when starting school next year and like a previous poster mentioned morning meetings can be a great tool to this. Everyone needs love.

  29. I agree this is a very moving article and see several of these characteristics in some of my kids as well. We have several students who attend our school who are not from our area, but rather come from negative situations and schools that there families do not feel are good learning environments for them. Although, they are not as violinet as many of the students in the article, many of my students often come late and are “grouchy” or want to be left alone at the beginning of the day, especially those who are responsible for younger siblings and meals in the morning. I completely agree that it is those children who need our time and dedication the most and it all starts with feeling a connection to their teacher. Without that connection, there is always a barrier.

  30. A decade ago I taught in a middle school with a high poverty rate in its student population. I invested myself in long days and worked hard all weekend, but always left school feeling like I had failed to make a difference. I transferred to a more suburban school and met with great success. This year I realized that I was bored and wanted a more challenging teaching situation. I requested a transfer to the high school in the feeder pattern of the middle school where I had taught so many years ago. This article captures my hesitancy and concerns about teaching students with diverse backgrounds, and it gives me hope that being genuine and intelligently seeking to learn from my students will develop mutual respect in both my students and myself.

  31. I enjoyed the honestly this author wrote with. Her tone really brought me in, and I feel like I was there with her taking the journey — feeling frustrated, then engaged, and then hopeful and successful. It is encouraging to see someone realize there are multiple ways to teach successfully — what works in one school may not work in another. It also made me realize that as I go to different schools, I need to spend time figuring out the best way to serve those students.

  32. This article emphasized the amamzing impact teachers can have on their student’s lives. When teachers accept their students for who they are and where they come from, students tend to feel supported and respected. When students feel they can trust their teacher, they are more willing to listen and accept help. In order to help our students be successful, we need to be mindful of the diverse needs of each of our students. Before we can effectively teach our students, they need to know we are there to support them. For some students, their teacher is the only supportive and trusting person in their lives.

  33. I was inspired by Sussman’s article because it made me feel more free to use class time to do what I’ve always felt was important and that is getting to know my students. With so much pressure that everything we do in class is somehow tied to the curriculum, it validated, for me, the importance of understanding the students culturally as well as from a cognitive perspective. This article supports the popular quote by Theodore Roosevelt who said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” How can we expect to establish a community of learners without respect for all students, regardless of their cultural experience.
    I am a high school teacher in a school that has a very diverse student body. We have every population from lower socio-ecoonomic black students to upper class students from India and just about everything in between. According to our Assistant Principal, our school is starting to see a greater population of black urban students moving in because rural Delaware is an inexpensive place to live and they are trying to escape the violence & crime of urban areas. This fact makes this article even more significant. More than ever, teachers and other people who work with young people, need to understand and embrace the cultural, socio-economic and cognitive differences of our student population. Great article!

  34. I am impressed with Grace Sussman’s self-dicovery and willingness to admit her part in “cultural nonresponsiveness.” Her article demonstrates the tremendous power a teacher has in the classroom. In fact, it reminds me of Dr. Haim Ginott’s quote, “I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom…I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration….” By asking questions and getting to know her students, Sussman became an agent of change, and her experience has motivated me to want to get to know my adult learners on a more personal level.

  35. As I was reading Sussman’s article, I was reminded of a time when I had asked my developmental students to journal about their most frightening childhood memory. Most students write about being separated from a parent in Kmart or a scary storm or an encounter with a big dog—scary, yes, but not particularly novel. In this particular class, one student, Younnie Mason, volunteered to read her entry, which was about being a young girl in Liberia. Her most frightening childhood memory was hiding with her brothers and sisters under her parents’ bed when rebel soldiers tore through their house looking for her father. The children were clinging to each other, certain that their parents would at any moment be murdered by these men. When Younnie finished reading her entry, the class was, for several minutes, totally silent. Hearing Younnie’s story changed the way the whole class saw her and each other, and it of course changed the way I saw her. I realized all that she had endured to make it to America so that she could earn a degree. Because of the journal responses I have my students complete, I have realized many times that every student has a story and, more importantly, that they all want to have their story heard and acknowledged. Sussman’s article is an excellent reminder to me that students need to be heard and validated before I can truly be effective.

  36. I really enjoyed reading this article because it stressed how important it is to get to know who your students are and what they really need. The students have basic needs that need to be fulfilled before they can engage in learning, like having a breakfast and a place to live. It is obvious that Grace Sussman tapped into that and was able to determine what her students needed from her as their teacher. She was extremely persistent in listening and observing her students to figure out how she would be able to get through to them. I thought the discussion about her classroom environment was very powerful. As a middle school teacher, I set up my room to be “inviting and colorful” but after reading this article, does that help my students? I will definitely be considering adding more of my students’ cultures into my classroom and posting their work consistently around the classroom and outside. I also know that I appreciate when my teachers try to get to know me and incorporate my needs into the learning. This article was heart-warming and inspirational!

  37. Grace Sussman’s article is an inspiring example of the importance for teachers to be culturally responsive to their students. This teacher respected the cultures and experiences of her students and used her observations as resources for adapting her teaching instruction. Her story serves as a reminder to all teachers that we need to acknowledge and appreciate the existing strengths, struggles, and accomplishments of our students. We can see from the article that knowing who our students are and where they come from can be instrumental in developing a learning environment where all students can achieve. Sussman realized the importance of helping students maintain their cultural identity and heritage and replaced the items/decorations in her classroom with cultural artifacts that her students could relate to. I am always thinking about ways I can best teach my class of diverse learners in community college, but this article serves as a powerful reminder of how important it is for teachers to respond to their students’ needs creatively and authentically.

  38. As I read this article I found myself finding a lot of similarities between the setting in which this educator works and the setting I currently teach in. Not that my schools population is all from this kind of background, in fact many of the students in my school come from well to do families and live in comfortable homes where they have little responsibility. However, I do have students who come from families that live in Habitat for Humanity housing. These students after will come to school and discuss the drug bust they saw take place on their way home from school the day before. They are comfortable talking about it because it is a normal occurrence in their lives. This is why I enjoy teaching science. The scientific concepts that I teach are in general new for all of my students. It provides me with a more level field, students don’t fell uncomfortable because they can’t relate something to their own lives. I greatly enjoyed reading this article and plan to introduce it to the colleagues I teach with.

  39. Sussman’s situation really resonated with me. I have had similar experiences the last three years working with similar students. I have struggled with getting my students to “buy in” and I believe that I haven’t done enough to connect their school experiences to their real lives. This articles was incredibly enlightening and I plan to keep it as a reminder of how I need to be approaching my students. I hope I can encourage other teachers at my school to read this article and take something from it. We need to be focusing on the kids as individuals that are part of significant cultural entities. The cultural and personal aspects of our students should not be lost in the midst of the curriculum and pacing guides.

  40. It takes a teacher who is really confident and dedicated to make the discoveries she made. There’s no question that kids from the inner cities have a whole different world to contend As a society, I believe we need to learn to understand our different populations and alter the way we teach accordingly. Sometimes I think changing what we teach is in order too. If we want these students to stay engaged and to believe in education, we need to make it meaningful and real to them.

  41. I have had colleagues who have gone to “try to make a difference” by leaving their positions in suburbia and taking positions in inner-city schools. The result is usually the same as Sussman experiences in the beginning of this article. I find it encouraging and hopeful that such a success story has happened through the hard work of a teacher getting to know their students. Teachers are always on the bad end of political and public commentary. There are some of us our there making a difference.

  42. After reading this article, I agree that cultural nonresponsiveness can be a kind of violence in the classroom. Teachers can become more culturally responsive to students by trying to learn about their students. They can do this by building relationships with their students. Teachers can build relationships with students by talking to the studetns and paretns and learning about their hoems lives and their neighborhoods. Teachers NEED to make sure they show an interest in their students to build this positive relationship will build a community in the classroom and motivate students.

  43. The article raises many interesting points. I believe it is important to appreciate the different views of students. Getting her students involved in changing the school was a great idea (as long as the principal was aware of it beforehand. If not, it could have backfired if the principal didn’t make some of the changes). But I am confused about the focus on a student cultural background. Categorizing the students as having one cultural background (as she seems to do) seems myopic. I think it was more important that she was building a trusting and nurturing environment. Also, I believe it’s important to present materials students can relate to. But in addition, instructors should present new and interesting topics/subjects as well. Sometimes an interest can be created by introducing something different like snow-covered wolves and dolphins to the students. Hopefully through this introduction, a greater motivation to learn will be created.

  44. My first foray into teaching was through Americorps. Along with 5 other recent college graduates, we were asked to step in as both teachers and mentors for students that exhibited academic talents, yet lacked the financial resources to attend schools that would best cater to them. A school was created the year before that would bring together some of these types of students between grades 5-8 in the hopes of getting them into the finest high schools in the area once they graduated.
    To say that we were unprepared at first for the challenges we would face would be a gross understatement. There was certainly a cultural gap that not just the teachers but many of the administrators as well had to bridge in order to gain the students’ trust when we started. Though it was an arduous task at first, through trial and error we learned that listening to the students became our greatest asset in building a learning community within the school. Once the students saw that we were there to work together with them, the learning process began to progress and thrive.
    Much of the Sussman article reiterated the same points. In particular, she was able to connect better with her students once she started asking the right questions to elicit more personal and meaningful responses from her pupils. From there, she took these bits of information and was able to better understand where they were coming from and gear her class curriculum to better cater to their needs.

  45. After reading your wonderfully insightful and encouraging article, I wonder how you feel about Teach for America. Do you think thrusting recent college graduates (such as David F.!) into some of the most in-need schools is beneficial to the schools? To the teachers?
    I also wonder if your work at ‘Clearview’ caused you to assimilate into its students’ communities. The tone of your article suggests that you felt like an outsider at your school and amongst your students – did that change? Do you think teachers who enter a school like Clearview with a background like yours can last there throughout their career? Your article makes me think that for teachers to truly maximize their impact on a school like Clearview, they must immerse themselves in the students’ community.

  46. Grace Sussman truly understood what it meant to create a community of learners. Before the students in this setting can even begin to learn the academic material, they need to know that they will have the support, not only from the teacher, but from their classmates and peers as well. As I was reading through this article, I wrote down some key words that I thought summarized Sussman’s thoughts and views: trust, respect, identity, dedication, listener, sharing, communication and confidence. In order to have these students come to be successful members of the classroom community, they need to know that they are able to be listened to and are able to have a safe zone where they can be comfortable sharing and be able to trust their peers. I thought that Sussman really worked hard to build this community and was extremely reflective in her encounters with her students. As I read through this article, I thought of my own school where the students are culturally and economically diverse. I hope to take some of the article’s ideas to help foster the caring community that Sussman succeeded with in her own teaching career.

  47. “Violence plays a central role in my students’ lives. It is not a last resort when people are frustrated or angry, but a primary instrument to negotiate human interactions.” This really struck me because I think it is very difficult for some people to empathize with others. Most teachers, atleast the ones that I work with, come from white middle class families and one or both of their parents were teachers. Unless you walk it, or as this teacher did, immerse yourself in someone else’s world, it’s tough to understand. So as the article mentioned, it is not intentional neglect or purposeful ingnorance, but it does need recognition and change. The last statement summed up the whole idea: “But I also learned that cultural nonresponsiveness, which both the school and I perpetuated, causes another kind of violence, an invisible kind.”

  48. As I read this article I was constantly thinking about the school I teach in. She could have been describing my school, almost everything she said from the demographics to the actual interactions in the classroom were very familiar. I realized that all the teachers and administrators in my school constantly talk about how rough our students’ lives are but we do nothing to truly understand it. I think if I do some of the things she mentioned in this article, then maybe I will have better success actually creating a true learning community in my classroom.

  49. I agree with Sussman that we really need to take a step back and observe our students. I see the benefit of observing our students because we learn who they are as a person. By showing interest in them as people I think you can accomplish this “safe zone” Sussman describes. Your students feel more comfortable in your classroom with you and their peers, so they see that it’s okay to make mistakes.


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