Noelle: I started teaching in the early nineties,
and people didn't necessarily talk about trauma, or you didn't get
professional learning around trauma. I knew that many of our students
were part of the system and court-ordered and so forth because I taught
at an alternative school.
Noelle: And I remember I came from a home with a
single mom. I knew some days that where we were on the last bag of
chips. But I remember going into a home and seeing locks on doors, like
bedroom doors or even cabinets. And my student was just like, "Ms.
Morris. That's how I protect what's mine. Or what's mine, that's just
for my baby." And I was taken so back by that, Anthony, I changed my
Noelle: Because I didn't know what I didn't know.
Noelle: I'm hearing you say, "My children." That has
to be something that's just natural to you. It's every student, every
class. Though you just take it as, "These are my children?"
Anthony: Yes, ma'am, I do. I personalize my
relationships with each one of them, even having those connections with
their parents. I want to be that teacher that when they become 30 and 40
years old, they're talking about me around their kitchen table saying,
"I had this one teacher. He really cared about us." I want to be that
conversation starter when they're talking about school. And so I don't
have children of my own as of right now. And so, I put all of my energy,
my time, even my money outside of school supplies. Every year, I get my
children to write a list of five things that they want. And I buy them
one thing off of that list.
And I wrap it up, and we open Christmas gifts. I personalize it for
them to let them know that I just don't care for you in the classroom. I
care for you outside of the classroom. Even one year, there was this
one particular student who the parent just came to me and said, "Mr.
Swann, I cannot do Christmas." And I bought the child along with my
fiancé. We bought the children because she taught the son, and I taught
the daughter. We bought their whole Christmas and delivered it on
Christmas Eve while they were asleep. So, I personalize that very much
because I want them to know that if they do not have anyone, they have
Noelle: Do you have data and results that shows both
your efforts from your routines, and what sticks, and what you're
consistent about? Would you be able to say, "Yes, we're seeing fewer
disciplines, and we're seeing more attention and more attendance in
school, which can lead to stronger results?"
Anthony: Absolutely. As a result of doing the Guys
with Ties and just making those personal connections with the children.
At my school, we were seeing an all-time high disciplinary rate and
disciplinary referrals for African-American boys. It was at 69%. And
after I started the Guys with Ties program, it dropped to 29%. As well
as the discipline report for across the school. It was at 22%. It
dropped to 9%. And so those particular things in place have made a
difference with the children and knowing that "Hey, I have to be on my
best behavior because if not, Mr. Swann is going to get me, or he's
going to be disappointed, and I don't want to disappoint him." So,
things like that has made a tremendous difference.
Also, a part of our cooperative culture initiative, where our school
wrote this particular curriculum. And I was on that committee, just
hitting different things like life skills, such as making goals and
making plans, and trust, and just different topics that we hit on. And
so, we do that school-wide so that we can all use the same terminology
and that the children will know that we're on the same boat. And so, I
have seen a difference in the data.
Noelle: That's amazing. Congratulations. I think
that just is what allows you to continue to expand your platform and get
funding and get people's attention.
Noelle: I want to go back to the personal side of
your story, Anthony, with growing up in foster care, which I know it
started at that age of nine when you were in Ms. Wilson's class to when
you were 21. When you think about foster care, what awareness and what
information do other teachers need to have and understand so that they
can connect and relate and support a student who may be having that same
experience that's in their classroom this year?
Anthony: It's a very good question. So, some
information I feel as though that they need to understand is that
students who are going through traumatic experiences, such as being in
foster care, is not that they hate you as a teacher, but that is their
way of coping. It's being disrespectful because they feel like, "Nobody
really loves me anyway. You don't really care." Rather than assigning
consequences, have a conversation with that child and ask them, "What's
going on? What's wrong with you?" Not in front of everyone. But
one-on-one just to let that specific child know that "Okay, I'm going to
give you grace. And I understand where you're at today, and I'm not
going to bother you. I'm going to let you have your moment." So
understanding that some of the children that are in foster care is not
that they're greedy. That it's just that sometimes even being in foster
care, that food is limited.
Anthony: Because you may have a foster parent who
lock up the food. I'm an example. We were locked in the basement in
foster care. And we could not come upstairs. And so, understanding that
when you get to school, this is the only place I really feel safe at.
And so, if it means me lashing out or acting out or misbehaving just so
no one will notice my situation, then that's what I'll do. So, I think a
teacher should really be empathetic and sympathetic and put themselves
in the shoes of those students who are experiencing trauma. I'll share
this story. Just last week, I had a student who was working on a writing
prompt, and he started writing about a specific place that if he could
go to, he would go to. And he started writing about he would go to North
Carolina. And all of a sudden, he stopped writing, and he wasn't
writing anymore. And he was just sitting at his desk, and he had his
And because I've experienced trauma, I did not immediately start
screaming at him. I called him to my desk, and I spoke with him
one-on-one, and I encouraged him. And I began to ask him, "How come you
stopped writing?" And he shared with me some of his trauma. He shared
with me how, and when he thinks about North Carolina, he thinks about
his father, whom he never sees. And so, I could relate to that because,
at his age, I never saw my father. So instead of making him finish the
assignment, I told him to have his moment, and we will finish it at
another time. But had I not had background knowledge and experience, I
probably would have been upset because I felt like, "Why are you just
sitting here? You just need to get the assignment done."
But I gave him grace, and I was empathetic and sympathetic with where
he was in his particular moment. Not only did I do that, I filled out a
form, and the guidance counselor was able to come and speak with him
about where he was at mentally to provide him with that support right
then and there as well. So I think teachers should be empathetic and
sympathetic when it comes down to children.