What Teachers Can Learn From Erin Gruwell

There aren’t many teachers who end up transforming their student’s lives. Because beyond teaching math, reading, writing, and more, many only do the bare minimum so their students can reach the next grade. But sometimes more is required. Sometimes there are barriers that prevent even the smallest learning requirements from occurring. And that’s where teachers must bring out their full potential to help their students. So let’s see what teachers can learn from an amazing teacher who helped her students grow… despite the roughest teaching conditions around.


What Teachers Can Learn From Erin Gruwell


Teaching Is More Than Passing On Knowledge

We all know teaching as a way of sharing information. And this isn’t wrong. However, is that all there is to it? Is it enough to just teach reading or arithmetic, and nothing more? The answer is no, and this is a lesson that Erin Gruwell has made explicitly clear.

Back in 1994, she began teaching at-risk students in Long Beach, California. These students all had their fair share of problems, and it made teaching them even the most basic of information difficult. There was even an instance where students were passing around a racist picture of another student as a joke. Erin saw this picture and ended up explaining that it was because of things like this that the holocaust occurred. And to her surprise, these students had never even heard of this event!

Imagine your teenage students never even hearing about such a thing. So what did Erin do? She did what she thought was best and went the extra mile. First, she made sure to convey the information in the most accessible (and smart) way possible – she showed them a movie called Schindler’s List. As we all know, students instantly drop their guard when watching a movie, even if it’s somewhat educational.

Then, she supplemented their fresh holocaust knowledge with books she paid out of pocket for, and even invited guest speakers to cement that knowledge further. By the end of it all, they had a solid understanding of the holocaust.

Did she have to do all this? No, of course not. These were at-risk students and most likely, even if she failed to teach them well, nobody would’ve batted an eye. But Erin showed us that a little initiative can go a long way for even supposed lost-cause students.


Connections Make Teaching Possible

Teacher connecting with student

What if somebody told you not to smile or attempt any emotional connections with your co-workers? Wouldn’t that be weird? And don’t you think it would only create a bigger barrier over time, which could reduce your ability to work together? So consider the fact that Erin was told to act this way with her students.

But Erin immediately saw the flaw with this approach. Her goal wasn’t to create distance with her students, but reduce it. And that’s what she did – not only between her and the students, but between the students themselves as well. The amazing thing is the strategy she used to do this had a positive effect on how the students viewed their fellow classmates. This is surprising because there was a lot of tension amongst them.

How did she pull this off? All she did was have them create a journal. They shared their personal experiences, got to understand themselves more, and dug deep into the facets of their lives. But that was only step one. Step two is where the classroom became a single, functioning unit.

She then had them share their journal entries anonymously. This is where they learned just how similar they really were. They all experienced happiness, sadness, struggle, anger, jealousy, and more. But they didn’t realize this until they shared this information. This created a class cohesiveness that greatly impacted their futures. They stopped the major bickering and in-fighting. And just by doing this, they not only finished high school, but even managed to go to college as well.

And for most of those student’s families, they were the first ever to do so.


Going With Your Intuition Can Pay Off

Erin knew deep down that in order to make these students successful, not just in class but in life, she had to do more. She had to expose them to the right ideas, as well as find a way to make them get along. And she had to make it happen despite everybody telling her NOT to. But by going with her gut and doing everything she could, she literally transformed the lives of these students and their families. And this is something all teachers can learn from.


What Teachers Can Learn Greatly Benefits Students

It’s important to remember that just because you’re a teacher doesn’t mean you’re not also a student. There’s always something else you can learn and improve from. And that’s true for your whole life. On that note, it can be helpful for students to gain another powerful skill as well, typing skills. From high school to college, and beyond, you can help them improve a key life skill by using the tools found at KeyboardingOnline today.