A teacher's message: 'My students' stories will change your life.'
Over the last three years I have had the pleasure of teaching high school students in North Tulsa at both Central High School and McLain High School. My students have a lot to say and share with anyone willing to listen. However, they often lack a formal platform to voice their opinions, and, maybe most importantly, they often lack an audience dissimilar from themselves.
You see, my students generally receive one of three reactions when they’re out around town: they’re overlooked, they’re intentionally avoided, or people expect them to be uncivilized.
I know them. I know that they deserve none of these reactions, and so I find it heartbreaking.
My students, a majority of the time, don’t even recognize it. Since it has happened to them most of their lives, they’ve just come to accept it as an inevitable and expected part of life. Even worse, it’s not just my students that garner this reaction; it’s also my students’ schools, their families, and their neighborhoods.
My students, extraordinary and resilient as they are, rarely allow this to bring them down though.
But I’m always left wondering: Why do these misunderstandings run rampant?
Sure, a number of things play into it. But for the most part, my kids believe people in society have been conditioned to look past them, be cautious around them, and fear the areas in which they live. My students hate this, but they struggle – as I do – to find a solution to the problem.
I want to be clear, though: This is not an issue my students dwell on like I do or many adults in their lives do. As I said, my students accept this reality; they have little option not to. It’s part of their everyday lives, and they push on. They thrive, dream and succeed in spite of it.
THE FORMULA FOR CHANGE
I have participated in debate for the past 11 years of my life. I competed throughout high school, college, and now I coach my own students. I know what makes arguments effective. I know what types of things persuade people and what types of things do not.
You cannot change long-held mindsets and misconceptions with lists of facts, academic lectures, or through confrontations. To create change we need narratives containing facts, personality, and relatable situational emotion coming from new sources, all proximal to the minds needing to be changed.
We also need time - minds are not changed in a day. Facts cultivate a strong foundation for any message. Personality provides an entertainment value necessary to keep you engaged. Relatable situational emotions allow you to transverse the gap between yourself and the writer and to feel yourself in their situation. New faces reduce possible animosity, and the narrative being proximal creates a sense of ownership and pride. People want the whole world to be great, but first and foremost they want the area surrounding them to be great.
Lastly, rarely do people make big changes immediately - we like to contemplate adjustments to our lives and beliefs on our own time.
Enter, Together Tulsa. Together Tulsa presents a unique opportunity to help both my students and our community. For my students, Together Tulsa provides a formal outlet to share their stories with as diverse a readership as it gets. For our community, Together Tulsa provides an exciting chance to change structurally advanced misconceptions about people in our city and the places they reside.
The life experiences my students have are some of the most tremendous and terrifying I have ever come across. There is really no way you could hear them and not find yourself rooting for their success. I cannot wait for Together Tulsa to begin its first year into operation; my students’ stories will change your life.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. Donate to Together Tulsa so we can serve our city's kids.
Tyler White is a Founding Board Member of Together Tulsa. His story is part of our Story Series, where people from our community and in our organization share their experience and their dreams for our city. If you'd like to share your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.