23 Albemarle educators CRT certified

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Monica Laux grew up in a competitive family. She swam and ran track. Her upbringing propelled her to set high expectations for her students.

But the English and women’s studies teacher at Western Albemarle High School had a lightbulb moment when one of her students plagiarized an essay. The student said he didn’t think he could ever please her.

“I hadn’t taken the time to realize how insecure he was in his academics,” she said.

She said she wanted her students to be competitive, adding that she thought by pushing them, they were going to rise to the occasion. She said she wasn’t taking the time to understand who her students were.

But that shifted.

Two years ago, Laux opted into the county school division’s culturally responsive training program, which addresses the psychological, social and emotional aspects involved in teaching so educators can better serve students. On Saturday, county schools lauded a record cohort of 23 teachers and administrators who completed the program.

“The process has transformed my teaching career to not only benefit my students and close some achievement gaps, but also it has made my job so much more meaningful. [It] has brought a lot of joy back into my teaching. When you get to know your students and value them, it’s so much more rewarding.”

Monica Laux Western Albemarle High School English and women's studies teacher

Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment, said the program aims at teaching students through their cultural backgrounds to close achievement gaps among those who are from different racial and class backgrounds.

“Oftentimes, when you go through this work and you talk to teachers, they might say, “How do you solve these problems?” We always look at what students are doing without looking at what we’re doing as adults first,” Hairston said. “This program is about the most important person in the room to impact students’ achievement, and that’s the teacher.”

He said that teachers should be experts about humans because that’s who they deal with every day.

“This work is about making sure that we have that balance between understanding the psychological, social and emotional aspects of who we are as educators to connect with students,” Hairston said. “And the best way to do that is through culture.”

Laux said she didn’t lower her expectations after completing the program, but she changed her approach. She teaches more than 100 students and said she now makes sure she spends one-on-one time with them. At those meetings, she said, she sets goals for them, take notes and give them access to these notes so they can hone their writing and reading skills.

She agreed that the training has also helped to better serve minority students.

“It’s reminded me that every student — no matter their background — needs to first feel loved and supported by their teachers,” she said. “They need to trust their teachers.”

She added that some students might not trust her in the beginning. Her goal has been to reach out to those students, making sure they know that she’s on their side.

“I’m not on the side of the people who have shut them down in the past, and … [I let] them know that we’re [going] to fight through this inequitable system together,” she said.

She also gets students’ feedback from an extensive survey she gives at the beginning of the year.

“One of the questions is ‘What does it look like when you shut down?’” she said. “Some kids, when they shut down from learning for the day, they’ll put their head down or ask to go to the restroom, and they don’t come back for 40 minutes.”

She’s more likely to help them with their struggles if she knows about these warning signs, she noted.

“The process has transformed my teaching career to not only benefit my students and close some achievement gaps, but also it has made my job so much more meaningful,” Laux said. “[It] has brought a lot of joy back into my teaching. When you get to know your students and value them, it’s so much more rewarding.”

CRT has allowed her to go beyond simply teaching students facts and used their life experiences to connect them with the content, she said.

“When you try to treat every single person the same, kids pick up on that,” she said. “And they know when they’re being treated as a number. They’re so much more willing to work hard and take ownership and responsibility with the teacher who values them as a human than a teacher who perceives them as an empty vessel to pour facts into.”