Reflecting upon current or past practices is the by far the best learning moments a teacher can take to improve. As I am in the midst of the final term of the school year, I am reminded of all the challenges I have faced this year.
The previous year all I heard was wait until this class, implying the group was going to be unruly or unmanageable.
Honestly, it was a challenging group, but it had nothing to do with their academic ability. There were many bright students and a handful of throw away kids (as deemed by society’s stereotypes) that I was determined to scoop up and bring back on track. The struggles for this class was they lacked some basic necessities:
- believing in themselves to be successful
- solid family foundations (mom and dad together in the home)
- financial resources to get students necessities (i.e., eye glasses and mental health counseling)
- warmth in their home — literally
- food over long weekend and holidays
- unable to afford their medicine on a consistent basis
Reading over this list, it was just a handful of the non-academic struggles our team tackled this year because kids deserve not to worry about the basic necessities.
Everyone knows them.
The ones you see sitting in the office next to the principal’s office.
The ones with a ton of office referrals.
The ones you need to love the most.
People have no idea what students are battling before and after school. Many could not even imagine or they know and are unwilling to address the real problems. Each one of these high fliers is an opportunity to impact another human being. Yes, they have the same genetic DNA as anyone else, but might not have the same opportunities as another.
A colleague and I started the first few days back with teachers walking the streets of our community. I needed to experience and be reminded of the poverty stricken community that I teach in. It was eye opening to see a homeless shelter hidden between homes and learn the number of students who are placed in their custody. Bouncing balls and young, and I mean young, students playing on the sidewalks were common, but no supervision was even more common.
We knocked on doors and sat on front porches introducing ourselves as children’s new teachers. We listened to parents’ visions for their children and shared our vision, never speaking about curriculum and keeping it student centered. It wasn’t our intention to speak ill about past experiences or setbacks; rather, we wanted to charge parents up about sending their children back to school.
Best Communication Method
In a community where having enough minutes on a phone, no internet connection, and moving due to evictions are common, messages are not easily delivered to parents. Therefore, it is necessary to get face time (not the iPhone app) with parents early on to learn the best method to communicate.
In the past, I would never handout my personal cell phone number, but texting parents is more common with students’ parents. It doesn’t affect their minutes and it’s immediate in our current culture. Disrupting the parents who work is not acceptable to them, but glancing at a text message is okay.
I find the best communication method for each parent and individualize it to meet their needs. I let them know of school, community and school events, homework and assessments, ways to help their children, extended study sessions, and most importantly things are going well.
Parents love hearing about their child’s successes. It is simply they were not able to provide the best for them, but want the best for them.
As the school year progressed, I tally each phone call, text message exchange, and follow up home visit. I have made more parent contacts this year than any previous year teaching. I also never had a parent shouting at me this year either. Instead, this year I earned their trust with their most prized possession, their child.
–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–