The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back to The Front pt.2

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Our motivational speaker didn’t disappoint.  In fact, just the opposite–he killed.  Some veteran colleagues whose opinions I deeply respect commented that he was the best speaker we have ever had at the school (for some, that goes back almost 30 years).  I have my own beliefs about why he registered so well, at least with me.  More on that later.

When I knocked off last time, I said that I knew the speaker would be talking about the importance of building meaningful relationships with students.  That got me to thinking about the difficulties inherent therein, and once the speaker started in and I started taking notes, I fleshed out that very thought.  One of my colleagues commented that meaningful relationships–especially with at-risk students–can’t be established by trivial means.  Thus, saying “nice shirt” or asking how the game went last weekend might be nice conversation starters or ice breakers, but they aren’t going to go very far–and it’s meaningful relationships with at-risk students that are most important.  At-risk students are not like plenty of other students who will succeed with or without a meaningful relationship with their teacher, wherein a “nice shirt” or a question about last weekend’s game will establish pleasantries and ostensibly be enough to maintain them throughout a year or semester.  The idea of a meaningful relationship with the teacher doesn’t register prominently on their radar; many of them are intrinsically motivated, can gain a firm grasp of content and develop solid skills without undue difficulty, and can move through their education somewhat smoothly.

That’s not the case with most poor students, which my school has in spades.  Half of our population is on free or reduced lunches, which is a huge indicator of where the overall economics in the community lie.  That half is the half that we know of.  There are more of an indeterminate amount because some families won’t file for free or reduced lunch because of ignorance of the system or the social stigma attached to the classification.  All told, that makes for a lot of at-risk students, and if we know nothing else about at-risk students, they are hard to reach.  So the building of relationships is all the more important.  But the relationships doesn’t start at “neutral,” as I was reminded.  When my freshmen show up the first day, the majority of them have eight years of negative school experiences behind them.  Behind those eight years is usually two or three generations of family who hate the school, and even sizable chunks of neighborhoods that don’t find the school to be a positive and enriching environment, or even a worthwhile one.  It is enough for them to survive on the margins through various welfare systems or manual labor.

So say I’m not cutting it in the relationship department with most of my students (and believe me, it feels that way with most of my at-risk students any given day).  They can find other ways to make school meaningful by playing football or running track or wrestling, right?  Not as frequently as you might think.  Some are stuck on babysitting duty first thing after school since the parent is working.  Later on in high school, a lot of them are working long hours after school and on the weekends to support themselves or their families.  Those who aren’t stuck in difficult family circumstances might not even be able to play a sport because they can’t meet eligibility requirements.  They’ve never had need to take school seriously and hence are lacking in many basic skills.  When they show up to high school there are all these new expectations they can’t meet because they’ve been socially promoted k-8, they flounder, can’t play their beloved football or basketball, and chalk it all up as another negative experience with the school.  And you can forget about involvement with other social and academic extra-curricular programs.  These students have rarely had any positive experiences with the social or academic aspect of schooling–why would they voluntarily get involved with one after school?

Our speaker Monday was no doubt aware of all this and much more, which was a major reason why he was able to speak so effectively to us.  For once we weren’t stupefied with inane war stories or chanted into a coma, and we didn’t have Maslow’s Hierarchy shoved down our throats like it’s scripture instead of theory.  For once we weren’t singled out as teachers and told “You should be doing ‘x’ to get result ‘y’.”  For once, the speaker took the entire building to task and talked about ways that we as an institution can and should be working to connect to students.

“Acknowledge, Honor, and Connect” was the theme of the day.  What I didn’t hear, though, and what was perhaps the only missing piece in all this, was what logically must come next.  Acknowledging, honoring, and connecting are the means, and not the end of what we must be doing.  It can help get us where we are mandated to go, but it is not where we are mandated to go.  We start there.

Then we climb the steepest part of the mountain.

Written by seeker70

September 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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