By Bryan Padilla
As the world changes at an ever-faster pace, observing and consulting with students can provide key insights into how our educational system is performing to meet their needs. As part of the effort to do just that, the director of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team and I recently visited advanced fourth graders in Amanda Klare’s Beechwood Elementary class in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky to facilitate a conversation about meaningful student voice.
The discussion touched on a variety of subjects that revolved around whether, why, and how students at Beechwood could take initiative to ensure their voices are effectively heard in school.
One of the most engaging issues we explored was what it means to have an effective teacher. This led to bigger-picture thoughts about how students can play a role in owning their education and partner with adults to make the learning environment the best it can possibly be for all students.
The following are excerpts from that exchange. The transcript from these nine and ten-year-olds about great teaching underscores that when it comes to sound ideas about education, even our elementary students can have a lot to offer, if only we would listen.
Lily: A couple days ago, Ms. Klare really helped us to get our voices out by helping us make speeches and slides on an opinion or topic that we really cared about. And that’s been amazing. It was really great because we got to get our voices out, which does not happen a whole lot.
Molly: Of all the teachers I’ve had, Ms. Klare is definitely the one who has helped me get my voice out the most because she’s been helping us [use technology tools] and really helping us realize all the potential that we have inside us. Her class is really fun and memorable, and it reminds me that us kids can be just as smart as anybody.
Maggie: Good teachers let us be ourselves. They don’t pound you to make you learn this in an hour. They help you get through things that maybe you didn’t understand at first, and then you really do understand it. And then you get it. Sometimes it can be personal. Sometimes it can be school related — anything, honestly. If you have a really great teacher like Ms. Klare, if you can trust a teacher, you know they’re a good teacher. You can talk to them. Normally, that trust comes from getting to know them. I didn’t know Ms. Klare, and when I got to meet her, I knew that I liked her from the first reading class. I knew that I liked what she was doing with us. So now, I can trust her with my personal things that maybe I haven’t told anyone else. It kind of helps to know them and trust them.
Shami: Good teachers help you reach your own personal goals because some people are not on the same level as everyone. They don’t want everyone to be the exact same, so everyone can improve. Like what Maggie said, you can trust them and they’re okay with sometimes if you struggle. It might have to do with something that’s at home, if you’re worried or stressed about something at home. Or it could be school related. You just trust them.
Some teachers you just trust because they speak to you, and they want to hear your voice.
Haley: Sometimes with the way teachers teach things, they don’t explain it very well, so we don’t understand it, and they’re not as effective. When we’re in class sometimes, we feel like we understand something but then, when we go to do the homework, or we go to do a test on it, you forget what to do or you don’t really know how to do it, and it’s too late to ask. Sometimes your parent didn’t learn the way we’re learning multiplication or partial products. My dad, when he’s trying to help me, it’s kind of hard for him to help me because he doesn’t know what I’m doing. Then when he tries to show me his way, I don’t know what he’s doing.
Benjamin: [Less effective teachers] use tests as the only way to screen where you are in the school year, what level you are academically.
Bryan Padilla leads Ms. Klare’s class in the Student Voice Spectrum Line, an activity that asks participants to respond to a statement about voice by placing themselves along a spectrum of agreement before discussing their answer.
Enoch: Teachers sometimes assign so much homework that once you get home, it’s like having more school. And so, you really don’t have any free time. It’s like, “Go home, and get more school!”
Bennett: A good or effective student always listens to the teacher and tries his or her best, and is nice and helps other people.
McKinley: A good or effective student will listen to teachers all the time and also will have good trust for their fellow friends and students. They will listen to their teachers and let them help you and have a good attitude about school instead of hating it.
Jake: A good student would go beyond the line and try to be advanced. If you’re not doing that, you’re kind of just slumping around, not getting very good grades and not following directions.
Maya: A bad student, if they talk during class, not only ruins their own learning but ruins learning for the other people around them because they can’t pay attention, and then they get bad grades, even though they might not have deserved those grades, but it was because of the person talking.
Warner: In an ideal relationship between a student and a teacher, they would both need trust for each other. They would need to have some experience with each other. [To build that trust,] they would spend time with each other and ask questions so they can know more about each other.
Samantha: Less effective teachers, if they don’t know your voice, they’re not going to know your best at everything, They’ll say things like, “Try your best on this test.” And your best might be like a D, but they’re not going to know that that’s your best because they’re not listening. And you might have a rough home environment, which could distract you from learning. So the [ideal] relationship is when they’re both listening to each other.
Julian: At school, I feel like you go along with whatever’s going on but at home, I can talk to my dad and he’ll listen to me. He’ll try to fix things for me. We do some websites at home that help me, like Khan Academy.
Jack: The kids are just afraid to talk to the adults. I honestly don’t really know why. Maybe because they’re afraid or think for some reason that they’ll get in trouble for saying something that the adults don’t like. They think that the teacher or staff member wouldn’t like what they were saying and they would get in trouble. I think it is possible [for students to give teachers feedback] but the kids need to understand that and give feedback a lot more.
Bryan Padilla is a senior at Connor High School in Boone County and a member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team. The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of the Prichard Committee or the Student Voice Team.
Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.