One of the strategies to build stronger teacher-student relationships is to begin by taking students’ perspective of what happens to them in the classroom. We recently spoke with three students in Portland, Oregon whose negative experiences at their original high schools led them to the Portland YouthBuilders (PYB) program. The three students—Jasmin Zapata, Andres Ambris and Coral Ambriz—are flourishing at PYB where they are completing high school and receiving support that is helping them move toward their education and career goals.
On November 3, 2016, Jasmin, Andres and Coral are sharing their school experiences in REL Northwest’s ‘Eliminating Disparities in School Discipline: Strengthening Teacher-Student Relationships in Diverse Classrooms’ workshop. Learn more about the workshop and find out how to tune into the live broadcast.
I was in a really bad school. I didn’t feel comfortable being there because you had to dress a certain way to fit in with everyone else, and you had to be part of a group, and I didn’t want to do that. I missed a lot of classes, because I didn’t like being there.
I wasn’t really close with my teachers. I didn’t like talking to them because I couldn’t understand the way they explained things and what they were teaching. They would just say I needed to do this assignment and get it turned in by this time. It was difficult for me. I had to learn everything on my own, and I hated that. If I don’t know how to do things, I don’t like learning them by myself. Whenever I went to the counselor’s office and asked for help, they just told me that I needed to go back to my teachers and ask them to help me, which I did, and it never really worked.
At my school now, the teachers actually come to you and ask you if you need help and explain the material way better than they did at my last school. I also like the smaller classes. At my last school, I didn’t understand math at all, and when I first started going here, I hated math. I honestly can say I now understand math much better than before, and it’s easier for me. I’m pretty proud of myself for that. I feel comfortable being here.
After high school, Jasmin plans to go to college and study medicine, preferably at Arizona State University where her dad went to school.
My last school was absolutely horrible—a train wreck. It was really bad, because I didn’t feel the teachers gave a damn about people. They were there to get paid. They didn’t care if you understood the material or not.
They weren’t there for you, to help you understand. I was always asking for help, always raising my hand, and when they would call on me, they would go around my question without really answering it. They never wanted to sit down one on one with you because the classrooms always had too many students. I never created a bond with any of my teachers. I tried, and it never really worked out.
What’s different here at Portland YouthBuilders is that because there are smaller class sizes, each teacher wants to have a relationship with you. If you don’t understand the material, they will sit down and talk to you about how to do it. I feel like they actually care.
After completing his studies, Andres plans to earn his Tier 1 BOLI certificate and join the Ironworkers union.
At my last school, I had a terrible experience with my counselor. I thought I trusted her and told her some very personal information. I told her a lot of things, and she went and told another student, and that student told everyone. It was embarrassing, because it’s my personal life, and now everybody knew about it.
There were so many students that the teachers didn’t care or have the time to sit down with you to ask how you’re doing. They were just there because they had to be there. I wasn’t even comfortable enough to raise my hand and ask for help, because it made me feel like I was stupid. I felt like all the other students could understand everything, and I was the only one who didn’t.
At my school now, the teachers want to be here, and they like what they do. They love to work with students, and the students want to be here, because they want a better life and a better future.
After graduation, Coral plans to get her cosmetology license and have her own chair at a salon.
Check out our related post: "Three Ways to Improve Teacher-Student Relationships and Reduce Discipline Disparities," by Researcher Vicki Nishioka.