It is often not all too uncommon in my school to have a few students register at the beginning of the year that never return. They come for a few days, you greet them, you try your best to have them stay here, but they inevitably leave school never to be heard from again. How many teachers often ponder what happens to these students? Do we even lose sleep over these kids? I know that most of us are stuck in the on-going train of thought that the student is probably at another school. Some even say, “Well, if they don’t want to be here, I can’t force them” When we say that – do we reflect on the fact that the moment they walk in and out of the door we are setting them up for failure? If a student is not learning the way, WE, think they should….is that their fault?
In an ever changing educational world where we are often having several things being thrown at us as teachers, imagine the position of a student that has to be in a classroom, with that teacher, learning. We are stressed out and more often than not that stress passes on to our students. So are teachers to blame here, admin, curriculum developers, parents or even the students themselves? I think we have to step outside of the battle of dealing with world change and find our focus and bring the issues to the table of everyone. There is no blame here. Our focus needs to go back to the student.
Not fitting the mold.
Looking at education and how it is structured in our province, as much as we differentiate, something still isn’t sitting right with me. Look at these situations for instance.
- kids who don’t learn academically – needing hands on learning
- Kids that can’t handle desks – needing standing desks or laying down
- Kids that need more supports than what schools can offer (ie. Mental Health and Addictions)
Now, don’t take this the wrong way and think we need to start creating jungle gyms of learning to meet all students needs. Yes, there has to be structure, but the time to look at those students who need those three areas needs to be looked at more closer. Specifically let’s address the last issue. We could have counselors in every classroom and one attached to each student. That would be great, but unfortunately, that is not reality. The reality is, a student comes to school with an addiction problem and usually is sent home. Why do we send these students home instead of trying to get them help? If they have no one at home to help them…sending them away from the one support to help them stay in the classroom should be our goal right?
Having those conversations and taking those risks is a tough path to go down. Especially when we have parents that might lash back when a student with addictions problems is kept in the classroom.
Another example is my own school. We do not have a shop or home economics lab. In fact, we don’t even offer those classes. We have a science lab that is very disorganized and rarely used. What is the problem here? Teachers are not taking the risks to carry out the lessons that need that extra attention. Those lessons that will engage students. if you don’t have a shop or home economics lab – what can you do? If the science lab is there – why are the teachers not using it? Here, a few students are falling through the cracks because we are failing to provide them with the lessons they need and the hands-on learning that they want. How can we encourage students to go into the trades instead of being focused on a university track…if we never even introduce that world to them? Why do university destined students have to be our focus?
Why should I have to change my classroom for 1 student?
I challenge the teachers that believe this. Maybe, just maybe, changing your classroom for that one student, would allow the other students to grow and thrive beyond your wildest dreams. Creating a positive classroom where ALL students have a voice and they feel respected in their learning seems like the right thing to do. Encouraging your students to realize that they need to make all their classmates feel like they belong and are important, regardless of whether they can write the essay or complete all the math problems. The reality is, that end academic goal is not for everyone and our teaching environments need to exercise that. A student should never, ever feel as though they are “not worth our time” or “will never go anywhere in life” because they didn’t get all their questions right or their assignments all handed in. Surely, if those assignments are not coming in – you should be asking a student, why? Maybe they can’t understand you or the work looks like a huge mountain they will never be able to climb. Teachers, we need to be the rope, the person who creates hills for students in place of mountains.
The student is gone – how do I get them back?
There is nothing wrong with admitting to your students, that you need their help. There is nothing wrong with being part of their community. Interestingly enough, many teachers never take the time to truly see a student’s world. If they are not at school – why not stop by their house and ask them why? Don’t just phone their parents, parents most likely will do anything to get you to never call back. Go to the student. Their future is the one that you are worried about – but make the parents realize that you should be a team.
I recently had a student come back to my class. He tried to be brave, but I knew he was scared. Instead of getting after him for being gone from school for over a month, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Hey, we missed you! Are you ready to pick up where you left off?” There was no lecture. I further went on to model to my other students the idea of a positive community by saying, “Hey everyone, look who is back, say hi! If any of you can help them get back on track, please let him know.” Two of my students got up and shook his hand and one said, “Hey, you got this man, I will help you!”
That made me smile. That student is going to make it, I just have to make sure I give him my best.