Is There a Place for Redemptive Conversations with Students in Public Education?

Author: Deonte Singfield | MTR Graduate 2013

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Teaching and coaching in an underprivileged community can be tough and discouraging.

I can remember driving home many nights after a long day of teaching thinking to myself, “There is no way I can go back to school tomorrow.” I have had the opportunity to teach and coach middle school students over the last four years of my life in Memphis. One story that sticks out as a crucial moment in my life as a person and my development as a teacher happened during my first year of teaching. I was working to figure out who I was; as a first year teacher, as a young professional and as a colleague who needed to collaborate with teaching peers in a new building. This would often feel overwhelming and at times a little unbearable. There was a time a student came into class very upset and refusing to work. After several redirections and using different techniques to motivate the student to work didn’t work, I told the student to get her work out because we don’t have time to waste in class. She proceeded to yell at me and used profanity to show me how upset she was about the situation. I very calmly asked her to leave class and that I was choosing not to engage her in that moment. The guidance counselor took her downstairs. She returned at the end of class and was apologetic and shared that she was wrestling with a ton of personal trauma and home-life difficulties. In that moment I asked her if she ever felt like I yelled at her or got mad at her. She said, “No, coach I’m sorry. I feel bad because you always stay so calm but I be goin’ off and treating you so bad”. I told her I choose to not engage her because I know deep down in her heart she doesn’t want to treat me that way and that I see so much potential in her. She would later become one of my best students and would address me as a role model and a father figure in her life. I learned two lessons that day; first to always treat people with dignity regardless of the circumstance and second that sometime we must treat people as they could become and not as they may seem so they have the ability to believe in themselves.

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It’s often said that teachers should “remember they teach students and not just content”. This viewpoint is often supported with the perspective about care and relationship building with students as a major aspect of ones’ teaching philosophy. It is said “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A huge portion of teaching, as a Christian educator, is the philosophy and principle of engaging students in meaningful and redemptive conversations. Whether due to outside influence or a student’s own beliefs, teachers must often pull students onward after difficult events. When faced with difficult times we all have different ways to deal or cope with our situations; emotionally, socially, physically, spiritually, mentally. Having a framework for engaging in redemptive conversations is pivotal for student’s success. Redemption, the act of saving someone from evil or error, is a term most often used in a religious context. I would argue it is the job of every educator, Christian or not, to “show students the way”. Redemptive conversations often help students to be more reflective and intentional with their purpose in school. They motivate students to be more confident and have a deeper understanding of their mission in life. More importantly, these conversations help center the culture and expectation of the classroom to be not only focused on producing better content driven students but ultimately better people.

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In conclusion, redemptive conversations are essential to education for both teachers and students. They motivate us all to be focused on the well-being and success of others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a person as if he were what he could be, and he will become what he should become.” I urge us all to lead lives of service and to focus our efforts toward the redemptive narratives we all strive towards.