In the beginning of the semester, before the interns got to choose the groups we’d work with for our “Stories from Stagville” project, I had gravitated towards a particular table of boys. While they seemed a little distracted during some of the initial writing assignments, I figured they’d settle down more once we all adjusted to the routine. It wasn’t until after I had already gotten attached to them that I realized the group’s silly nature was not because of a change in their usual routine. They were “that group”, as their teacher sometimes referred to them—one that would need more guidance to keep them on task. I’d seen each of the boys do good work when they were on their own, but when they worked together, their attitudes changed.
I used to deal with distracted students when I worked as a school tutor. I worked with students one-on-one then, and I could usually get a student to focus on their work by reminding them that I could send them back to the classroom and work with a better-behaved student instead. My former students saw working with Duke students as a privilege. The situation at Club was a little different. It was expected that I’d work the same group, so I couldn’t use myself as leverage. When we began the video making process, there were other privileges that I could take away if students were being disruptive. For example, if they boys started running around on the playground when we were supposed to be filming or looking at Internet memes instead of images for the video, I could tell them that we’d go back to the classroom if they couldn’t handle it. My goal was to keep them from inhibiting their own creative processes, but it felt a lot like behavior management. When we were still working in the classroom, either reading ex-slave narratives or writing their own stories, I had to take a different approach to keeping them on task. Rather than taking away privileges, I had to actively work with the students to keep the students engaged. I asked a lot of questions to keep them focused on the task at hand. When one student fell behind, I made it the table’s mission to make sure that he finished, meaning that the other two boys were not allowed to distract him. Here I saw my role as trying to get them to engage with and start making connections with the materials that were given to them. I felt less like I was managing the students and more like I was actually working with them.
The image I chose to write about is a still from our video. It’s a close up of two students shaking hands. The students chose to use this action in the reenactment of a slave purchase. Out of context, the image represents how I think LTP interns need to work collaboratively with the students, instead of just telling them what to do. While guidance is necessary, it should be more hand-shaking than hand-holding.