As a life-long educator, and educatee, August has always felt a bit more like New Year’s Day than has January 1. If that resonates with you, then you’re likely an educator who has spent June and July writing and planning more goals for the academic year than you did for the new calendar year.
I’ve seen you this summer.
You’ve spent your “vacation” reading, writing, attending workshops, poring over literature, creating activities, and fashioning plans that you know will engage every student who is fortunate enough to be assigned to your classroom.
I mean, magic is on the schedule!
You’ve armed yourself with foolproof strategies, highly-rehearsed presentations, and fresh ideas guaranteed to entertain, draw students in, and ignite curiosity! You’ll have even the most-reluctant learner trembling with excitement, and begging to stay after school to learn from you. Yes, you!
You are set to inspire awe and astonishment!
While your excitement about, and confidence in the efficacy of your plans is grounded in the research, and your faith is well-substantiated, there is something needling you.
The past is tugging at your sleeve, and it wants to go to the restroom/has lost its pencil/is insulting its peers/wants its cellphone back/is ranting and swearing about the PE teacher/wants to put its head on its desk/won’t stop talking/etc., etc., etc….
You try to shake a sense of doubt, and determine to delight in the beauty of your organized plans and HGTV-worthy classroom environment, but your experience reminds you that you’ve always had at least one student, and sometimes more, who, despite all of your brilliance, failed to respond in a productive, healthy, and expected manner.
You know who I’m talking about -- the kids who just slay you with their lack of response to the dynamic execution of your incredibly well-thought-out plans? I mean, you deserve a Tony Award for your performance in Environmental Science, but these kiddos don’t engage! He withdraws. She refuses. He disrupts. She pulls peers off task. They turn your classroom into a scene from Animal House!
There you are with your degrees, your radiant evaluations, your tenure, the articles you’ve written, and the workshops you’ve presented, but you’re chagrined. Depleted of ideas. If, at this point, you wonder where you’ve gone wrong, rest assured you have likely done nothing wrong.
And if you wonder what is wrong with the child, let’s shift that question to, “What has happened to this child?”
You’ve taken a first step toward mining your way to the gold that is stubbornly lodged in the heart and mind of this child.
It’s what has happened to the child that has left him unable to respond in the expected and typical manner. It’s the physical abuse he has experienced or witnessed. It’s the instability in his home. It’s the neglect. It’s the loss. It’s any number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) that have occurred in the student’s life.
These experiences have changed the way his brain functions, and have thereby altered the way he responds in relationships with others, and the way he learns.
I’ve been teaching high school English to classrooms filled with these hurting students for eleven years. Before arriving at our school, they’ve experienced everything you can imagine -- and much, much worse. And while their behaviors are complex and confounding, they can be reached. There are solutions. There is hope.
I’ll be giving YOU hope as the year goes along. I’ll share the techniques and practices that have been successful with our students. I’ll be sharing research, personal anecdotes, and as much knowledge as I can with the intention of helping you bring out the best in some of the most damaged students in our schools.
The most impactful thing in their lives is a caring relationship with an adult. You may be the most positive thing impacting the most difficult children in your classrooms. Take heart. Do the research. Prepare to do the hard but rewarding work. These kids need you.
“Scientifc research points to the presence of a stable, caring adult in a child’s life as the key to building the skills of resilience.” - Dr. Jack Shonkof, Harvard University (Paper Tigers 23:26).