As with many educators around the world, I was at home wondering what year-end project or activity can I plan to engage the students for the remainder of the school year, while completing the rest of the curriculum. Reflecting on all the discussions I having been having with staff, students and those I interact with over twitter, and after reading an inspirational post from George Couros I came up with an engaging and interesting idea.
The students have been enjoying using the internet to watch videos and listen to music during their free time. One of the songs that they have been constantly listening to, mostly because of its catchy tune and lyrics is “Waving the Flag” by K’naan, which is also the official song for the World Cup. So I decided why not have the students listen to the song, read through the lyrics and watch differing interpretational videos. Once this was completed the students were to create their own video. As I watched the students and engaged them in conversation, I had an idea, why not make one of my own. So I did, but first some background.
For the majority of my educational career, I have been teaching children and youth that have had many labels, codes, and diagnosis. However, the most common connection of all these children is that the are in care. These are children that are wards of the state, meaning that temporarily or permanently the government is their legal guardian. There are many of these children that attend regular schools but the students that I directly taught ended up in my class because they had been either apprehended for their homes, were in trouble with the law or had no other place to go, and the streets are by no means a place for young children to be.
When I first started I used to think, what is wrong with these children, how could they possibly have gotten this bad, what would make them make the choices that they are and have. This probably lasted a better part of the year, as building trust, rapport and relationships with my students was very difficult. Many of them had been bounced around from placement to placement, home to home and school to school, often times not understanding why. For others, they didn’t trust adults, and why should they? Many of their problems such as abuse, mistreatment and violence were a direct result of their interactions with adults. This combined with the fact that every time they made a mistake they were shipped somewhere new, made most attempts at building relationships futile.
What was I to do, well as any other teacher, it was time to gather information, talk to people and try harder. I began reading the files that followed these children. If you think that you educational file at the end of your career as a student in school was thick, you haven’t seen anything. I distinctly remember a fourteen year old girl I taught, she had three files, all roughly three inches thick. After and long, and difficult read, I did however gain some great insight and understanding, I also realized that, due to information in her file her and I would have a tense relationship at best. Her previous interactions with males, we’ll say at best was traumatic.
Needless to say, I made a point of gathering as much information as possible, not only in relation to all the diagnosis, problems and issues I would be seeing in class, but also about my students. In addition to this, every morning I would do a check in with the students individually, either as they entered the room or at some point during morning reading. I would also actively seek out the residential staff that worked with them to see how their night went, if there were any new developments or problems. This made the next six years much easier. Not only in building relationships, but in working with many children, even those from other classes. Reading students and their emotions has become easier. I know when I can push a student to do more or better, and when they are truly at the end of their rope. I can peel back the layers that many of my students used and still use to hide behind.
I am not going to say that I have solved all of the problems in my class or that I have helped or saved every student that I have taught. Truthfully, I have help many, seen many move on and some have come back. I have also seen the darkest aspect of teaching, the passing of a student whether by accident or by choice. I do however believe strongly that to really teach and connect with the students that we work with we have to make the effort to not only get to know them but to understand if possible where they come from. The back ground of a student dramatically effects how a student deals with many of the situations in life.
I guess what I am saying is that although you may not realize it, but just as we observe students and attempt to understand them, our students are doing the same, and some of those students are much more accustomed to doing it then we are as it is their way of survival. In addition, understand the or make the greatest effort to understand the back ground of your students, it will not only allow for a greater ease when building relationships, but will also allow you to anticipate and proactively avoid negative situations and interactions.
Its just a suggestion, but one that I have followed and it has greatly improved my efficacy in my interactions, relationships and teaching of, not only at risk but all students.
I hope you enjoy the video, just remember it is my first attempt. Enjoy