The philosopher Paulo Freire asserts that teaching is a reciprocal process between teacher and student. No student has taught me as much as Lakeisha Daniels. She was a brilliant 12-year-old who preferred reading The Diary of a Wimpy Kid to watching Pretty Little Liars like her peers, and joining me in my classroom during lunch to being with friends. I was lucky to know her.
I learned from Lakeisha that a student is more than what you see on the surface. The issues that present in class are often just the tip of the iceberg.
While I was teaching Lakeisha, she started missing homework assignments, falling asleep in class and becoming withdrawn. I asked her grand-father (her legal guardian) to help her stay on top of her assignments and get enough sleep.
As a teacher, I was well-trained to identify learning gaps, but not to detect the issues that might underlie students’ academic struggles. The summer after I taught Lakeisha, she called to tell me that she had been diagnosed with leukemia. I was in disbelief. We had compared summer reading plans just two weeks prior.
Teachers are not trained to look for health issues or students’ underlying trauma — even though those issues powerfully affect their learning and achievement.
Her doctors later confirmed that her condition had caused her fatigue and inability to complete homework. And I wondered: Could I have helped detect her condition earlier had I known to look beneath the surface?
But how could I? Teachers are not trained to look for health issues or students’ underlying trauma — even though those issues powerfully affect their learning and achievement. Lakeisha’s death five years later pushed me to look still deeper. I came to TC to learn to help other educators do the same, because I don’t want them to have to learn the lesson the way I did.
Lakeisha’s lesson should be a central part of teacher preparation across the country. TC has a long history of leading the field. Let’s ensure that every educator has ample training to look “beneath the surface” before she or he enters the classroom.