The Challenge of Who and How to Teach

Most students will do what they are told to do and will perform well if they are well prepared. There are some students; however, who will fall through the cracks of education because they do not see the purpose of what is being taught. For one reason or another these students are the challenge, they are the ones that will excel beyond belief or will become a troubled child in the classroom.

“What’s the purpose of learning algebra?”

“Why should I learn about a bunch of slaveholders and dead white men?”

“Shakespeare means nothing to me.”

“I’m never going to use anything I learn in Science class.”

“What’s the point of gym?”

“I’m not an artist.”

“I’m never going to speak a foreign language so why should I have to learn one?”

And on, and on, and on…

So what do you do with these students? How do you reach them? How do you stop them from failing?  What can I do to help students see their potential and to allow them to excel in their own way? I wonder if it is possible to teach to the individual and to the masses at the same time. More importantly I wonder if I should focus on the individual or if I should focus my energy on the larger group of students and help the others as best I can.

These are the questions every teacher asks and the answers will change on a daily basis depending on assignment, class and student. For me the key has always been, “What inspires the student? What can I do to motivate them?”

Now this is where it gets tricky because what inspires and motivates one student might repulse and close the door for another. This is why being a teacher is more than just instructing a lesson, it is knowing how to connect with a variety of different learning styles in a variety of different situations.

As a teacher I have always focused of alternative forms of education. I try to find a way to allow expression and then tie educational lessons into it. For some students this works very well for others it doesn’t. When students have spent so much time taking notes and memorizing facts it is hard for them to answer the question, “What do you think?” On the other hand, once students learn to think for themselves and create their own opinions it becomes hard for them to go back to memorization and recall.

Besides being a divergent thinker, what else can a teacher or school do to inspire and encourage students to let their genius out? One key I found is that all children, all people for that matter, like to be treated nicely. I always say please, thank you, good morning, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Asking a student, “How was your weekend?” is one of the most powerful tools an educator has. Not just the nice, happy students, ask everyone. The quiet one, the noisy one, the popular one, the unpopular one, the one that always gets in trouble, and the one that does whatever they are told; all of these students can be touched with a smile and a hello.

In fact, I have found that some of the most troubled students react better to caring than they do to strict discipline. Don’t get me wrong, I have rules in my class and I am in charge, but every student knows that I care about them and I talk to them about problems that they might be having.

Some of the “worst students” are just full of frustration and are on the brink of exploding. Sometimes letting them vent and talk will do more for the environment of the class than constantly fighting with them. Let them know you care and when they are done tell them its time to get back to work. A student will do more for you if they know you’ll do more for them. How often have you heard a student say, “The teacher doesn’t like me” when you know the teacher does, or when you know the teacher doesn’t? Is it the student’s fault, is it the teacher’s fault, or is it just the dynamics of education?

Ok, so the students know we care about them and that we will go outside the box, now what? Now comes the hard part. The teacher must become a magician, a juggler, a tightrope walker, a social worker and an educator all at the same time and without faltering in any of the responsibilities given or taken. Doing this is a slow process and care must be given to the environment to ensure success of the classroom.