When I met Randall Duval, Real Time Teacher Coach and 12th Grade Language Arts Teacher at Denver Center for International Studies at Montebello, I knew immediately that he was a No-Nonsense Nurturer® by the way he talked about his relationships with students and his passion to see that they were treated with dignity and held to high expectations. His ability to address disempowered teacher mindsets directly and with care jumped out at me as I watched him coach.
At the time of his training, the 2019 Denver Public Schools teacher strike was looming and morale at his school was low. Randall, however, remained positive and focused on his students. I learned that Randall has been a classroom teacher for over 17 years in economically depressed communities, and that maintaining focus and joy in the sometimes tumultuous world of education is something that he’s passionate about and has written about over the years. Seeking a dose of encouragement, I picked up a copy of his book, #stillloveteaching: A Pedagogy of Honesty and Hope (which you can find here on Amazon). After reading it, I felt compelled to interview Randall, who goes by Duval. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
What would you tell a first-year teacher about working with students in traditionally disenfranchised communities?
You’ll be teaching the most fiercely resilient students you’ll ever have the privilege of teaching. You’re going to have to learn a lot, and it’s a no brainer to enlist your students’ help with that. Their advice may not always come out the way you want to hear it, but you have to take their feedback with a grain of salt, accept it, and learn from it.
Why do you think teachers might be hesitant to be authentic and vulnerable with their students?
I think part of it is the dynamic we have in our heads about the teacher-student relationship. A teacher may say, “I’m in charge, and I’m going to run this class,” but the classroom is a shared space and to proceed otherwise is inauthentic. I teach with the permission of my students. I think it also has to do with biases about students of color in economically depressed or oppressed situations, and assumptions about where they come from and what they have or may lack.
What’s the one thing you want your students to take away from being in your classroom?
I want them to feel empowered because they have the capacity to impact their own lives, as well as the lives of those in their community. You can’t do that without empathy and others’ perspectives. It’s easy to get caught up in our own bubble, but having an impact requires looking at a situation from another person’s perspective.
What inspired you to write #stillloveteaching: A Pedagogy of Honesty and Hope? What’s the most important thing that you want teachers to learn from your book?
We have so many new teachers joining the profession every year in the United States. I wrote this book, primarily for new teachers, in the hopes that I could add something to the conversation about why people would go into teaching. I wanted to provide them with a concise account of the perspective of someone who is 17 years into a teaching career and still loving it, someone who is respected in his school community, still has vibrancy from when he began, and hasn’t been bogged down.
Teaching is such hard work, but it is also such good work. Build a community around you that can lift you up when things get difficult. I enlist students as partners in my own growth, and also in supporting me, in allowing them to wrap an arm around me like I do for them. That relationship between teacher and students is pivotal to your longevity and your effectiveness. For example, on the first day back from the strike, I was authentic with students about my frustration with adults’ issues in the building. Saying that gave them space to take care of me, and their attitudes were more positive after the conversation.
Teachers should use the text as examples of what to create with students, and how to be with students. I’ve made it a point to be vulnerable in the text – to share both my failures/shortcomings and my successes. Teachers should take it as license to be vulnerable with each other and compassionate with themselves. Staff can use it as a springboard to courageous conversations, as I’m sure there are both teachers of color and white teachers who have experienced the struggles I’ve experienced and the approach to education I’m describing.
How did you develop your asset-based perspective?
I think people are generally good by themselves, but may fall into a negative group mindset. A teacher’s interactions with an individual student can be really strong, but they start listening to the voices that say, “this group of people can’t do this” or, “they don’t have structure or safety.” That thinking is not what they truly believe, but it’s in the ether. I think that if we can get teachers to be honest about their practices and mindsets, they will improve or realize this is not the place for them. You can’t believe negative things about students and stay in the classroom. It’s unethical.
I also think it’s about being vulnerable, and that vulnerability reduces the feeling of powerlessness. We can provide a space for people to be vulnerable about what they are feeling and who they are inside. Without that vulnerability, people will be stuck in the same routine. For example, as a black teacher, I see white teachers walk by students in the hallway and not ask them to go to class, so their black counterparts have to, instead. I need to be able to say, “This is hurting me. I’m letting you know, and now it’s up to you.” Hopefully, we can get to a place where people are more empathetic.
Is there a student or teacher success story that you attribute to No-Nonsense Nurturer or Real Time Teacher Coaching?
I once coached a teacher that would pass by a black student who was not doing his work, and didn’t address him or give him any feedback, multiple times per class. He explained to me that he didn’t want to incite misbehavior in the student. I asked questions like, “What do you perceive about that student if you are saying that it’s best that he doesn’t do his work? What will happen if that teacher’s behavior continues?” In this discussion, the teacher realized that this boy would be lost. It was a powerful opportunity to hit the reset button. He came up with steps around relationship building, such as connecting with the student outside of class. He’s now cultivating a relationship based on high expectations.
I also coached a teacher struggling to hold out for 100%. He plans well, has relevant material, and is instructionally solid, except when it comes to behavior and requiring attention. Striving for 100% is what one particular week of coaching was about. Being transparent about the impetus reduced pushback – this coaching is a vehicle to get greater equity for black and brown children to start performing at the levels they are capable of achieving. You can have a mindsets conversation with people all day and get nowhere. But if you highlight specific data points, such as not calling on female students, it helps people notice things that they haven’t noticed before.
What’s the one thing you want the teachers you coach to take away from working with you?
You can be the reason a student flies. It is your practice – the things that you are doing intentionally – that can allow a student to really take off. In order to do that you have to become acutely aware of the things you are doing and not doing. Eventually, teachers get to a point where they exist outside themselves and look at their practice while it is happening and can say, “that didn’t work.” Until that happens, they need a coach’s outside pair of eyes.
If there were a magic bullet in education, what would it be?
If we can get out of our own way – out of the way of our biases, or get our biases out of the way of us – then kids can just about teach themselves. To use the metaphor that education is supposed to be food that nourishes people, if you just set the table, people will eat. If you say that someone’s not going to like a particular dish, that you can’t eat it, or that it’s too spicy, it doesn’t work. Kids will usually eat what you put out for them.
by Leah Pearson, CT3 Associate
Click here to read more about Real Time Teacher Coaching and here for our blog on tips for new teachers that you probably haven’t considered.