Another group of students where teachers can model ally behavior is those living in poverty. These students face all sorts of challenges including housing, insufficient nutrition, bullying because of things they have no control over, dirty clothes, and instability in their families, among other things. Needless to say, students who live below the poverty line face many challenges in and out of the classroom, but here are a few ways for teachers, English teachers in particular, can act as allies on their behalf:
- Establish a relational interaction. In order to enact change, you must first find your voice, your platform. But, in order to make your platform effective it is critical to develop a relationship with your students. As a teacher this looks like developing a self-image that students respect, and respecting their human experiences as well.
- Give students the language to advocate for themselves. Oftentimes the language that students use at home is not empowering in the classroom and community at large. By teaching students how to “code-switch” to the formal and accepted standard of English, you give them a microphone to be able to advocate on behalf of themselves and those in similar situations. I am reminded of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative wherein he uses a language, a code, that would be more familiar, and thought more highly of by his English and Union audience than the language used informally among the African-slave community.
- Teach students the rules of navigating in the school community. Students coming from more unstable backgrounds may have learned ways of protecting themselves that aren’t permissible in a school context. Fighting is one example, but teach them alternative ways of approaching conflict that lead to greater understanding rather than busted lips and black eyes.
Resources for further reading: