After a recent day out of the office, I returned to the normal deluge of e-mails in my inbox, notes and documents in my mailbox and student discipline referrals. As I spent my early morning, sifting through this paperwork and devising a plan of attack, I was taken aback by a referral I received for a young man with whom I have had fairly regular contact. The referral read:
Stephen (not the student’s real name) decided to put his head down during a group discussion. He was asked to pick his head up and work to help his team. He told the teacher to “Lay the f*** off”. The teacher then kneeled down to try to talk to him and his response was “get the f*** out of my face”.
Now most people would assume that addressing discipline is one of the less appealing aspects of being a school administrator. While I wouldn’t say it is my favorite thing to do, I do enjoy the opportunity to individually interact with students and hopefully provide them with some help and guidance. I have done this for a long time, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on addressing situations in a manner that is supportive of the adults on our campus, while advocating for the best interest of students.
What concerned me most about this situation was the state of mind of a student who is willing to make comments of this nature to an adult. My assessment, based upon this incident and other interactions with Stephen is that this is a student who has lost hope–one who feels that there is nothing to be lost from making such comments. A student who has fallen into the abyss.
Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I have a passion for working with “at-risk” students–empathy born out of ignorance. As a small town Kansas kid, I was generally unaware of the existence of true challenges, certainly nothing that would compare to many of the trials faced by my current students:
- drugs and alcohol
- family upheaval
- gang violence
- extreme poverty
I am not saying that some of those problems didn’t exist in my hometown, but I lived a relatively sheltered life with caring parents, food to eat, clothing and a nice home. In some ways, I think that is why I enjoy working with students facing these struggles–because I know that I can never fully relate to what they are going through. I don’t have the audacity to say, “I understand,” nor the naivety to assume I can “fix” a student’s situation. All I can do is demonstrate an interest, express a belief, have expectations, show empathy and work to build connections.
I wouldn’t say that our educational system has failed these students, because it is apparent that the problems faced by “at-risk” kids are much bigger than anything that can be fully addressed by teachers, administrators, or schools. However, for many of these students, we have failed to effectively meet them where they are–academically and emotionally.
How can we re-engage students who have lost hope? How do we rescue kids from the educational abyss? What strategies make a difference?
Questions that need to be considered. Ideas that need to be shared.