Carol Peek, Tami Mungaray, Vincent Tolliver, Dori Maria Jones
How do you support students who are struggling academically and personally? It can be tricky, educators say. Sometimes there are worries about boundaries. Here’s how four CTA members describe their personal and professional standards when it comes to student relations.
They are: Carol Peek, campus security supervisor, Buena High School, Ventura Classified Education Association; Tami Mungaray, PE teacher at Buena Vista Middle School in Salinas, Spreckels Union Teachers Association; Vincent Tolliver, Skyline High School band/orchestra teacher, Oakland Education Association; and Dori Maria Jones, English teacher at R.J. Frank Intermediate School, Oxnard Educators Association.
How do you nurture your students?
Carol Peek: I’m an authority figure. But if I find a student crying, I’m a sounding board and an adult figure they can trust. If I can’t help them, I point them in the right direction. I give them a little hug and tell them it’s going to be OK in the big scheme of things. It’s not the end of the world. If a child makes a bad choice, I can be a positive person who says, “You messed up. Let’s deal with the consequences and move on.”
Tami Mungaray: I make sure everyone who walks in my door knows I care about them. They can come to me in a crisis. Girls ask me to help them take pregnancy tests — and I do. Every year a girl tells me about a friend who is cutting herself, and I’ve called the parents to make sure they get counseling. Students call me when they feel like cutting. I try to be there if they need me. I listen to what kids say so I don’t miss the important stuff. [Editor’s note: Recent studies estimate that one in five teenage girls engages in cutting or other forms of self-injury. Find out more at www.hopeline.com.]
Vincent Tolliver: My students are like my children. I take them to rehearsals. I drive them home afterward because it’s dark and dangerous. Mentoring happens when you’re riding in a car, hanging out before and after rehearsals, etc. I get them to use music as a tool and a transferable skill that develops lifelong learning. Through competitions, my students find options they don’t know existed.
Dori Maria Jones: I have a professional relationship with my students. I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful when things get muddled up between professional and personal. I am not a counselor, a psychologist, or a social worker. I’m a teacher. If a student is troubled, I refer them to a school counselor or get them to other resources.
How does a personal teacher-student relationship enhance learning?
Carol Peek: It gives students a more positive outlook on school. I had a kid who was sitting in the quad one day. He was supposed to be doing homework, but he wasn’t. I helped him and said, “See how easy it is?” He asked me why I was helping him, and I told him that it was because he was important. He graduated, is working and stays out of trouble. He still remembers that I took the time to help him because I cared.
Tami Mungaray: A personal teacher-student relationship gives young people confidence and makes them feel good about themselves. They know that someone cares about them and wants them to do better. They look forward to coming to my class — and hopefully to school in general. They will try harder to succeed.
Vincent Tolliver: Through relationships, you teach them about life, not just your subject or curriculum. Some of my kids are homeless and don’t understand manners or how to interact with people. Having a relationship with them means your classroom becomes a second home and you can teach them important things. It helps them get a scholarship so they can succeed in life.
Dori Maria Jones: I’m uncomfortable with the word “personal.” I have a professional teaching relationship with my students. I focus on what I’m trained and capable to do. I have boundaries. It keeps things simple when everybody understands their roles.
Do you worry about false allegations? If so, how do you prevent them?
Carol Peek: No, I don’t ever worry about it. My kids know that even though I’m nurturing I can be tough, and I mean business.
Tami Mungaray: Sure, I worry about it all the time. I leave the door open to talk to a student. If they hug me, I’m not inclined to hug them back because it makes me nervous. Outside of school I’m a hugger. But not at school.
Vincent Tolliver: Yes. I’m a male teacher who spends extra time with students. Years ago I had a student accuse me of inappropriate conduct because I disciplined her in class. The principal instantly knew she was lying. I leave my classroom door open. Several adults know where I am with students. If I give a ride home, I call the student’s mother and let her know we are heading home. I let my wife know, too.
Dori Maria Jones: It’s always a possibility — even if it’s an unlikely one. I keep my classroom door open when I'm working with students after school. It just makes sense. You lessen the likelihood of being falsely accused if you take precautions. It’s important to protect yourself, and the kids, by making sure boundaries are clear.
Best advice you have for positive student-educator relationships?
Carol Peek: Be real with them. Explain that if they don’t go to class because they can’t stand the Spanish teacher, they are not hurting the Spanish teacher — they are hurting themselves. Maybe someday they will get a job and not care for the boss, but it’s no reason to quit the job. I tell students I’m not their “friend,” which could be misconstrued as borderline inappropriate. I tell them that instead of a friend, they should think of me as a role model.
Tami Mungaray: Consistency is important. Have the same rules for everyone. Kids know I’m not going to treat one student one way and another student differently. Respect is something that goes both ways.
Vincent Tolliver: Be fair. Value who they are. Train kids to respect the learning environment. And if you have to discipline a kid, do it in a way that won’t crush their soul or their spirit.
Dori Maria Jones: Set high expectations. Be genuine, but don’t feel like you have to answer every question. Again, that’s the boundary. I told them my job is to teach them how to think, not what to think. Accept students for who they are. Communicate with them in a positive way. When they demonstrate a particular talent, try to encourage that talent.