BIXBY — Relationship-building, real-world preparation and trauma-awareness are some of the things students say they want to see more of in school.
Nine high-schoolers from throughout the Tulsa area talked candidly Thursday morning about their advice for teachers on how to improve the school experience. Educators filled the choir room at Bixby High School to listen to the student panel during the latest stop of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s traveling summer conference.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister served as moderator of the panel session and asked the students what they wished their teachers knew.
Many said they’d like to see teachers try to develop deeper connections with their students. The best teachers, they said, weren’t afraid to get on a personal level and express interest in their lives.
“I feel like a lot of students are interested in personal conversations with teachers,” said Stone Yang, who is about to be a senior at Bartlesville High School. “A lot of my teachers are pretty open to that, but I feel like some new teachers aren’t necessarily comfortable with having those types of conversations or don’t know if that’s appropriate.”
Yang said his favorite teacher always asks him about his life and for updates on his journey to college. The extra effort goes a long way to making him feel valued.
Bixby junior Madeline Mueller said it bothers her when teachers aren’t approachable.
It takes a lot of courage for some students to ask for help in class. When a teacher laughs them off or puts them down, Mueller said they may never ask for help again.
“If I have a teacher who I can go up to and they’ll sit down with me and be like, ‘Yeah this is a hard topic; let me help you,’ that means a lot more,” she said. “Because it just feels very degrading when teachers aren’t approachable and willing to work with you.”
Hofmeister also asked the older students what they feel they’re not prepared for after graduation.
Some complained that high school prepares students only for college. Lesson plans aren’t designed with students going other directions in mind, said Rachel Rogers, a senior at Bixby.
“Maybe you’re not going to college,” Rogers said. “Maybe you’re going to trade school. Maybe you’re just going straight into the workforce. I think trying to teach lessons that are applicable to those situations too would be really helpful.”
With plans to go to college, Cormell Padillow considers himself an anomaly in his north Tulsa community, where families often can’t afford higher education. Many of his peers aren’t able to attend Tulsa Tech or Tulsa Community College with dual enrollment.
That’s why Padillow, who attended Langston Hughes Academy last year, believes high schools serving poor, minority communities need to better prepare students for all walks of life.
“With this issue, I cannot represent someone that goes to Bixby or Jenks or Owasso, but I can represent someone who goes to a Central or a McLain,” he said. “And the biggest issue is the disparity in that the students in those classrooms don’t know of anything other than immediately getting out of high school and going to work in the workforce, which is extremely harder for people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree. That’s a problem, and that’s my main issue.”
Another question centered on student support for mental health and trauma in schools.
Padillow said there’s a misunderstanding about how to handle students suffering from mental health crises. He believes teachers should look at it as trying to help students — not trying to fix them.
Teachers shouldn’t be pressured into being therapists, he said. Rather, they need to view their role as a sympathetic mentor.
“I truly think that the best thing a teacher can give to a student is understanding and not try to make them feel like the world is perfect and everything is going to be OK,” he said. “Instead tell them, ‘You’re going to get some low points in your life. I get low points in my life, and I want to teach you how to handle it like I’ve handled it as an adult in life.’ ”
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