Thursday, August 30, 2007

What a way to start off a morning...

Yesterday, I started off my morning walking into a fellow teacher's room to check up on how things were going. He had a bit of a peculiar face on, so I asked if everything was all right. He abruptly answered "No, it's not alright". As this was a close friend, I knew I could press on for more information. He shared with me that he had a student come in this morning and he did not have a clue how to work with the kid. The student was not belligerent, was polite, was eagerly into the work in the class, but he was incredibly somber. The student had stopped in to see my friend in the morning before school to explain the circumstances.

The day before this student had walked home from school as he always does. It was unclear from my friends rendition what the family structure was, but he seemed to imply that the boy and his father may live alone. As the boy approached the front door to his house, he started to feel all shaky for some reason. He opened the door at the same moment his father pulled the trigger on the shot gun that ended his father's life. The boy went into graphic detail as to what it looked like and according to my friend, the boy still looked like he was in shock the next day as he entered the school and came to my friend's classroom "to talk".

At this point my friend and I just looked at each other for a few seconds in silence. As one, we both mumbled "...and he is in school today?" A few more seconds followed by, "Well where else has he to go?" I hugged my friend as a way of saying "good luck" and had to head off to one of my many meetings that day. I have since checked in to find how how this young boy is doing. Obviously, things are in all sorts of turmoil for the boy, but not at school! In school, he finds a reason - a purpose.

So many professional gurus continually point out to teachers every year that many teachers lack the skills to motivate students by meeting the kids "where they are". Often this is given in reference to technology integration and more relevant curriculum. I would add that teachers may also need help with dealing with the social changing of student environments. Did anyone take a class in their undergraduate or graduate studies on dealing with a child that loses his/her family? How about strategies to work with that little junior girl with the attitude? Sure she gets A's and appears bright, but her attitude gets in the way so much. That is, until you find out that she goes home at night and has to take care of her 5 younger siblings because mom is no longer alive and dad is working two jobs and does not get home until 11 p.m. He leaves in the morning my 3 a.m. leaving this little junior girl to be mom to 5 kids she never birthed.

The point is that teachers, especially this time of year, are starting to learn about their students. During that process it is natural for many teachers to make some assumptions and some judgements. We don't always get to hear the issues facing some of our more challenging students and if we do get to hear it, we may wish we did not. As hard as it is, try to avoid the judgments and instead concentrate on questions. What questions do you ask? I have found the system of 5 Why's to be helpful, especially when the questions and answers are in writing.

In the old days we used to hear teachers or school officials saying that a student was too dumb or lazy. That shifted to being challenged. Now I hear motivation being to blame. Sometimes, it may be that the young person is dealing with issues you or I have never had to deal with.

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