I listened to a podcast recently that talked about the relationship between teacher and student that really resonated with me as I was reading through Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The podcast, titled “In The Classroom, Common Ground Can Transform GPAs” talked about how common ground between teachers and students can improve student’s scores. The researchers gave a survey to students and teachers of 9th grade classes, and then shared with each participant examples of things that they had in common with their student or teacher. As a result, student’s scores jumped nearly half of a letter grade. Maybe even more importantly, this trend was even more pronounced for minority students, leading to a closure in the achievement gap between black and latino students with their classmates by 60%! While the initial assumption was that students who could relate to their teachers would be more motivated to learn, but this really didn’t seem to be the case. It turns out that it was the teachers who were changed by learning that they had more in common with their students than they had realized and were able to be better mentors to their students. In the case of the pronounced impact on minority students, the researchers suggested that this may be because the primarily European-American teachers had not previously perceived that they had much in common with minority students.
It seems that this sort of understanding and common ground between teacher and student is fundamental to moving away from the banking concept of education where students are not lifeless receptacles of knowledge, but rather relatable, unique humans who have much to contribute. When we talked in class about how some instructors may try to meet individually or in small groups with each student at the start of the semester in order to get to know their students better, I think I was subconsciously a little uncomfortable with the idea. The idea of being able to maintain a healthy level of authority in my classroom is already something that scares me, but breaking down that barrier even further by inviting students to lunch or an individual meeting gives me pause. But after hearing this research and reading Friere’s work, I think I’m becoming much more open to the idea. If finding a way to relate to my students can help them to learn, and especially if it can offer me an opportunity to close an achievement gap for minorities in my class, then I am open certainly open to the idea.