Addae Cox

"What if it’s not a good morning?"

Every morning at 8 a.m. sharp, with a berry smoothie in hand, I would say good morning to my students.

As a 5th-year teacher at the time, my expectation was for students to say good morning back to me—with genuine enthusiasm at best and in a lackluster monotone at worst.

One morning, one of my students walked into the room without saying a word. I assumed he was not being polite. With my Caribbean upbringing by way of Trinidad, it was considered a fiasco of some sort if a child didn’t adhere to the standard “good morning” greeting. Moments later, I asked him why he didn’t respond to my greeting, and I have never forgotten his reply.

“What if it’s not a good morning?” he said.

I paused in deep reflection.

How had I expected to exchange pleasantries without ever considering the lived experience of my students? What would the impact have been if I started my morning greetings by acknowledging that we are all coming into the building with a different experience, with a different mood today, and that it was valid?

Before joining Gradient Learning, I taught in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood for seven years, where the student body was majority Black American and Latinx, with several students coming from single-parent homes. I had students living in temporary housing, having experienced the effects of systematic disenfranchisement according to their race and class.

Serving my community has always been the driving force behind becoming an educator. Specifically, I strived to be someone who could recognize the rich, unique, and diverse perspectives my students brought into the classroom and the world.

"Our students deserve trustworthy adults who make an effort to connect with them wholeheartedly and without conditions."

Some students and colleagues don’t know that my life experiences growing up were defined by years of poverty on a small island and as an immigrant in this country. I have been fortunate to have found mentors and advocates who undeniably helped me navigate New York City’s public school system.

But let’s be real. There were many who were ill-prepared to instruct a population they ultimately did not understand. So how could I forget that connection—not performing a morning greeting ritual—was at the heart of this work?

Of all the inputs of teaching and learning in a school building, teachers are undoubtedly the greatest facilitators of knowledge acquisition and, most importantly, grounding. The educator affirms to students: You belong in this classroom; I believe in you; Your worth is not determined by (xyz).

Often, it may feel difficult to establish a rapport with every student. I understand that educators have competing priorities during the school day: making copies, attending IEP meetings, grading papers, planning lessons, and so on. At the center of making connections in the time we have as educators is Along, a teacher-student connection builder that is offered by Gradient Learning.

I encourage all of the fearless educators to take time from your lesson this week to ask students one of these questions from our Along Collection:

  • Who in your life do you want to make proud? Why?

  • When you feel stressed out, what helps?

  • What does community mean to you? When have you felt like part of a community?

Our students do not want nor need ordinary advocates. Our students deserve trustworthy adults who make an effort to connect with them wholeheartedly and without conditions. Even if it means not hearing, “Good morning.”