As a certified teacher in the state of Massachusetts I have learned a tremendous amount in different graduate school classes and professional development sessions. However, the most important things I have learned have come from my fellow teachers and from experiences in the classroom. The Notes from the Chalkboard Blog is where I will share some of those hard won lessons. So without further ado, here are some of my notes from the chalkboard…..


Walter Duncan is a 14-year veteran K-12 teacher. His students were ranked in the top 15% of all Massachusetts Public School students on MCAS ELA in 2012. He has deep experience getting the best out of his kids in inner-city school districts such as Detroit, Washington DC, and Boston. He is the host of the Teachers’ Round Table, an online forum for teachers committed to progressive practice and evidence-based, data-driven education. Additionally he is the co-founder of Design By Educators the makers of the Quick Key Mobile app, a social impact company that seeks to empower teachers to more effectively close the achievement gap.

Sawbonna, I see you or my soul sees your soul.

In my fifteen years in the classroom I have been blessed to have been able to build meaningful relationships with my students. I have never been “buddy buddy” with students, but a clear mutual respect and warm feeling exists. As teachers invest their time in their students and the students invest their efforts into the class, strong bonds can and do form. As educators, we know it is important to build these bonds, as students give more effort when they feel that an instructor has taken a genuine interest in who they are as human beings. But how can this be done? We are not in the classroom to be friends with students. Yet a real relationship with our students must exist, and it must be deeper than “I am the authority and your are the neophyte”.
In my early years in the classroom, I was able to achieve this goal but I did not understand how I was able to do it. At first I thought it was just because I was young and familiar with the hip slang, or because I would host after school hip-hop clubs, during which time the students would make beats by banging their fists on the table and I would freestyle rap with the students. The truth is, my raps are bad and my slang is outdated and makes me look corny (real talk)! So, what is the key? How can we make them know we care and that we are genuinely interested in each of them?
In my first year of teaching I noticed an English teacher who seemed to connect with all of her students. They loved her, and she was strict and demanding. Mrs. Amen Ra, she did not play, yet all of her students knew she cared. As a result, they worked for her, I mean they really worked hard for her class. A difficult assignment? They did not bat an eye, they got down to business. I wanted to teach like that, so I started watching her, trying to see what she was doing. I noticed that she always commented on what outfits the students were wearing, or how they were carrying themselves. She did not necessarily praise or put down, she just noticed. And she noticed different students everyday, not the same ones. She acknowledged their swag, she saw them. 
Sawbonna is a Zulu term for “I see you” or “my soul sees your soul”. Our students need to know that we notice them, that we see them for who they are. That we see them no matter if they are failing or thriving, that we acknowledge their humanity. They need our attention like a plant needs sunshine. They need it objectively, not with saccharine sweet praise or mean-spirited admonishment, they just need to be seen. So notice your students, say something about their new Jordans, even if you think it ridiculous to spend that much money on shoes. Comment on their new haircut, even if the lineup is uneven 🙂 Notice them and they will notice that you care, and they will work harder for you.
Sawbonna, I see you or my soul sees your soul.