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Deborah Bieler, a UD faculty member and alumna, has written a book that offers teachers strategies they can use to interact in a meaningful way with their students and keep them engaged.
schools are in a state of crisis. By the end of the day, 7,000 students
will have dropped out of high school, or just over 1 million every
year. Meanwhile, 40 percent of teachers will leave the profession within
five years, resulting in an increasingly dire shortage of qualified
While state and federal policymakers often focus on testing and
accountability, University of Delaware associate professor Deborah
Bieler suggests that keeping students and teachers alike from dropping
out of school may be as simple as engaging in meaningful conversation.
In her new book The Power of Teacher Talk: Promoting Equity and Retention Through Student Interactions,
published Nov. 9 by Teachers College Press, Bieler asserts that brief
daily interactions shouldnt be thought of as meaningless small talk.
Just a few words of encouragement, a genuine compliment and even a
follow-up from a previous conversation shows students they are valued,
which in turn allows teachers to experience greater job satisfaction.
Teachers typically engage in five student interactions per minute
thats one interaction every 12 seconds. Each one shapes and reflects
participants attitudes about staying in school, said Bieler, who is
also a former high school English teacher. The great potential of these
interactions to change lives for the better is often why students love
school, why people become teachers, and why both students and teachers
stay in school.
Meaningful interactions, however brief, are especially important for teachers and students of historically marginalized groups.
Equity-oriented teachers look for and take opportunities to actively
promote and increase equity wherever they can, said Bieler. As a
result, When students and teachers remain in school, there is a greater
chance that they can use their more deeply developed skills and
knowledge to create a more equitable world for themselves and for
So what can teachers do and say to keep marginalized students from
falling through the cracks? In her book, Bieler outlines four
1) Classroom decoration
Classroom d??cor makes a visual statement of a teachers stance on
equity, social justice and commitment to staying in school, so Bieler
suggests including pivotal items such as posters or bulletin boards
that acknowledge and support social justice, instead of school-focused
messages, to show students they are welcomed and valued.
One teacher displayed an inspirational poster entitled
Determination/Little Rock Nine, which included images of the Little
Rock Nine students who integrated Central High School in 1957, said
2) Impromptu interactions during class
Every day, teachers and students engage in hundreds of spontaneous
interactions that have a profound effect on each groups decision to
stay in school. So, Bieler suggests, respond with patience rather than
Teachers are uniquely positioned to mark youth as worthy, and they
do this important work through their daily interactions with students,
3) Conversations before and after class
Engage in unstructured small talk before and after class, unrelated
to school topics. This positive energy can build a more humane
connection and make students feel more valued.
The moments before and after class provide places for teachers and
students to assert their agency and to create or perform their
identities in ways that are not possible during class time, said
4) Staying to talk
When a student is in danger of falling through the cracks, as Bieler puts it, invite the student to stay and talk after class.
Compared with all of the other interactions discussed in this book,
these intentional staying-to-talk interactions with students were among
the most powerful ways that I saw equity-oriented teachers try to
connect with students about whose success they were concerned, said
Bieler. The meetings communicate that the teacher is paying attention
to, or investing in, students and signal to students their value and
sense of promise.
Reviewers have described the book as an indispensable resource for
new and practicing teachers alike and a must-read for anyone
interested in understanding and improving life in schools.
UD faculty member and alumna Deborah Bieler, CAS'93, '97M, who earned her bachelor's degree in English education and her master's degree in English, is an associate professor of English and is
affiliated with the Sociocultural and Community-Based Approaches to
Research and Education specialization in the School of Education. She is
available for speaking engagements or professional development. For
more information, follow her on Twitter.
Article by Jordan Howell; photos courtesy of Kristen Boylan Photography and Teachers College Press
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