Teacher finds connection with students through flags and relational teaching style
Typical of a first-year teacher, Eric Parker was struggling to connect with students, finish lesson plans and organize his day.
Even more challenging was the fact that Parker was given a class of immigrant students, an Oklahoma history class designed for teenagers who had recently arrived in the United States.
“It was insane,” said Parker, who is now in his second year at Northwest Classen High School.
“It was frightening because I didn’t want to ruin anything for them. I didn’t want me being brand new to hinder their education.”
Parker, who had just graduated from the University of Oklahoma, was looking for a way to decorate his classroom and brought two flags from home — an Oklahoma state flag and a Costa Rican flag he got from a high school trip.
One of his students from Mexico saw the flags and remarked that it would be cool to have a Mexican flag in the classroom.
“The idea just kind of sparked when (the student) asked about the flag,” Parker said. “I had a running list for the rest of the day where I was like, ‘Okay, where is everyone from? What flags do we need in here?’”
Soon Parker had dozens of flags hanging from the ceiling. Flags for France, the Congo, Rwanda and Pakistan.
There was also a flag for Vietnam and Honduras.
“Every time I had a new student join the class, I would ask them where they were from and we would add it,” Parker said.
Parker said the flags created a welcoming environment for students trying to navigate a new homeland, along with helping him create a deeper connection with his students.
“It also became a message to students that this classroom is a place for them, and this is a teacher I can trust,” Parker said.
Parker also hung a Pride flag and said it was meaningful for many of his students.
As the students felt more comfortable, so did Parker in his new career.
He felt more freedom in being himself, which he said is a passionate educator that bases his teaching style on relationships.
“I knew he was going to be a superstar teacher probably three or four months in, just his way of being able to pick up on cues and being really relational in his teaching style,” said Milton Bowens, who was Parker’s mentor teacher during his internship year and first year at Northwest Classen.
“Eric has the content knowledge but also has the capacity to relate with (students) in a way that is authentic.”
Parker said he is focused on continuing to grow as an educator and finding new ways to relate to students. He has a personal goal to learn Spanish, then French and Vietnamese.
Parker has also tried to be vulnerable to students, which includes an “L” counter on the dry erase board that counts his mistakes. A misspelled word in a presentation or some other slip up will result in a student calling him out and increasing the “L” counter, which stood at 17 a month into the school year.
“I want this class to be an us thing and for them to know I’m not a perfect person,” Parker said.
His Oklahoma history class also presents an opportunity to find relatable material for his students who did not grow up in the state or country.
“We were talking about how Spain came here, and I asked what impact did that have on you?’” Parker said. “It was amazing to see it dawned on some of their faces that the Spanish language comes from Spain, and some of my students are speaking Spanish, therefore that moment in history has relevancy.
“I don’t think any learning can take place if they don’t like where they are or don’t feel comfortable where they are.”