S2 Highlight: The Importance of Relationships w/ Monte Syrie


In this podcast, Monte Syrie joins us to talk about building relationships with our students. Monte operates a daily educational reflective blog at letschangeeducation.com, serves as an adjunct professor of education at Eastern Washington University, and is a high school English teacher and department chair at Cheney High School in Cheney, Washington.

One frustrating notion of relationship building amongst the educational community, to us, is a vivid focus on tips and tricks to make students like you. "I do this and my students love me!" Frankly, we feel that relationship building shouldn't be something one needs to read a book over - it's just being human. It's odd that we would need to second-guess the importance of connecting to another person on a human-level.

However, there's no denying that many aspects of school dehumanize us. Students are pitted against each other to become the best, and our goal is to produce students to reach "the best." Their value, by the state, is determined by a number in a short window of an outdated testing model. As teachers, we're expected to constantly display data (and the state testing standard we're utilizing) at all times. None of these norms, which are the target of the majority of PD at most schools, sound like we're teaching humans.

Instead, our school system emphasizes a prison-like system for management. Stay in line or be placed in isolation (or have to stay longer in a "learning environment"), stay quiet and still for long periods of time, listen to whatever is being told to you - even if it has no applicability, relevance, or interest to you. Restorative justice aims to solve these ailes through reflective thinking and talking to the aggressor to try to solve the root of their problems - but there's no denying that school itself lends itself to the problem.

If you have the opportunity to take the "#ShadowaStudent Challenge" (or have already) - walk through a student's shoes. You'll find that it's difficult, taxing, and oftentimes...boring. I remember going through this process and being almost asleep - not because I knew everything (in fact, I knew almost nothing outside of social studies as I'm a History major and never use much else in my life from high school), but because everything was so authoritarian and disinteresting. Listening to someone talk for hours on end, doing meaningless group work that goes nowhere, or being forced into gruelling assignments with strict due dates made me quite happy to return to being a teacher - whose profession is well-regarded as being underpaid, undervalued, and overworked.

Perhaps from empathy, you'll begin to understand why some students act out and not seek positive relationships. You're essentially forcing students to "eat their peas and carrots" when you tax them with memorization and non-relevance. Frankly, if I were to return to high school now, I'm sure that I wouldn't last long - I'd lash out. For the better (I guess?), most students aren't aware of how terrible of a position they're in. Hopefully with more educational movements, more and more students will demand a better, progressive education - to stand with progressive educators as we seek out change.