On the first day of school, students asked for the class syllabus because they received them in their other classes.
“Did you read it?” I asked.
Most kids said no; while a few read PARTS of it.
“What parts did you read?” I asked.
Grades, rules, homework, and some students said they read the required supplies. One student said, “I hate when the syllabus requires you to have a glue stick and then you never use it. ALL year.”
One student said the teacher READ the entire syllabus to the class.
On the second day of class, students wrote a class syllabus.
I have never given an assignment where I learned so much about the students. Most notably, almost EVERY student had Homework and a Homework policy. What does every kid complain about? Homework!!!
“Does there have to be homework? I asked the next day.
Yes! Most students responded.
“Why?” I asked.
So we know more
We won’t remember what we did in class
You at least have to read and fill something out
You just have to
Our Educational Practices Have Brainwashed Students!!!!
Students could not provide a reasonable justification for spending hours each night on homework and yet they included it in their syllabi. It almost seems like students have given up on the true joy of learning once they get to high school. As an example, one student didn’t fill out anything except for one class rule:
Class rules: This Section is Important to Students
First, it’s important to note that almost every student wrote about respect in their class rules. Second, all students included some type of rule about the bathroom. Believe it or not, I’ve had many students tell me about teachers who won’t let them go to the bathroom ; ( Third, most students want to be free to eat or drink in class. Finally, most students want to listen to music when they work independently and they also do not think using the cell phone in the classroom once in a while is a Major Crime.
A Funny Example
Can we as teachers give the students the same respect we expect? Is there a way to go to the bathroom, listen to music, eat a snack and maybe look at your cell phone during class in a respectful manner? What rules can I loosen up? The outcome will be happier students who learn how to function appropriately in class AND I might have extra time to notice something more positive about certain students.
Every summer, a week prior to the start of school, I receive a Pupil-Free Agenda that typically follows this format:
All Staff Meeting
Opening remarks from Executive Director
All Staff panorama photo (this takes too long)
This year was no different. . .until it was. The agenda came and I threw it on the floor for the cats to play with and rip into shreds. However, when I arrived, there had been a change.
This guy. . .and I still don’t know his name. . .ran the meeting.
We were placed in groups, given ingredients and told to make a dish that would be consumed by all. There were no instructions. . .and it was a contest that would be judged. Here is one picture of the results:
I have since forgotten every Pupil-Free day previously, but do you think I will forget this event? School starts tomorrow for the students and I’m so excited! There is only one shot at a #FirstDay and this year I will be sure not to waste it. Many of us have probably been following the twitter hashtag #FirstDay where amazing teachers have been sharing their ideas. While I previously stated that you can only have one first day, how can you add a little spice into EVERY day and have students excited to come to class? The following are a few things I’m changing this school year:
No more repeating instructions, answering the same question over while other students groan and wait to get started.
The slides are linked here so that you can see the videos if they won’t play on this format.
A ton of time is wasted in (my) class by explaining assignments and answering student questions that they should be trying to answer for themselves. What you see above is not complete because for each assignment there is a link to Google Classroom that provides some clarification or additional comments. However, part of preparing students to be successful in the future is to enable them to be self starters who can interpret an assignment and then create a product that is to be shared publicly. While students navigate the digital directions, I am then free to walk around the room and assist students who really do need more support without holding back students who are inventive and have their own ideas about how to proceed.
Students start class with 10 minutes independent reading and then they can transition to the project/activity for the day and move at their own pace. The videos are all around 25-30 seconds long because students won’t want to watch more than that at one time. The reason I’m posting the example of my videos is not to show how GREAT they are–but to prove the exact opposite. The videos are not that fantastic–and yet I feel it will really help the students to connect with the learning task and me at the same time. It’s extremely hard not to be critical of yourself on video and wan it to redo it, and yet we ask students to put themselves out on a limb, in public, all of the time!
This year, after seeing many examples on the internet (even from Chemistry professors who teach at the university level), I’ve decided to create an infographic syllabus. While I’m waiting on approval from administration to use this as the parents’ version also, this is what I will present to the students and also use with the parents on Back to School Night. Actually, this year I’m not going to ‘present’ the syllabus in class. Instead, I will have the students form groups that are each assigned a small portion of the syllabus and they will in turn create skits to perform for the class. I’m not doing this until the second day and I have no idea what to expect! I will most likely create a few scenarios or characters on index cards for students who struggle with creating the skit.
Ditch That Homework is an amazing book that just came out by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Above, I shared one of my favorite sections from the book that delineates many questions to ask before assigning homework. It looks like they put the most important question first, “Does it increase the student’s love of learning?” (XVI). Naturally, the answer is probably not. The natural follow-up question is: Does grading the homework increase your love of teaching?
Standards Based Grading
Finally, the last HUGE change I’m making for this school year is shifting TOWARDS standards based grading. I’ve read tons of literature that talks about the Why, but nothing that talks about the How. My goal is to do a 50-50 split between participation and standards based grading. In this way, students will be rewarded for participating in class and for improving their skills.
As you go through the year, there are obvious peaks and valleys of enthusiasm for both students and teachers. When you find yourself in a deep valley, revisit this tweet by John Stevens to lift you up:
After only one week of my first NEH experience-I am completely blown away! The title of my summer institute: From Harlem to Hi-Hop: African American History Through Literature and Song, is horrifically terrifying due to the fact that my experiences with Hip-Hop are limited to: 1980s ghetto blasters, music videos, radio play, an unfortunate but memorable experience with Wyclef Jean, Eminem (I love MANY of his narratives), The Beastie Boys, and what I call Hard-Rap/Rock-Rap like Rage Against the Machine, or the much later Prophets of Rage. The institute is a collaboration of Dr. Laura Nash and Andrew Virdin, who openly retell stories about how their first proposal for the fellowship was rejected by the NEH. Luckily, this agenda passed through all of the readers because in one week I’ve been connected to inspiring, intellectual voices in the vast field of African American studies.
Dr. Yohuru Williams
I think you can tell from the smile in the picture, Dr. Williams is an engaging speaker who is not only knowledgeable, he introduces and models critical strategies that can immediately be used in the classroom to engage and challenge students. At the same time, he is a prolific writer and I’ve included some links that you should NOT IGNORE! In a later post I will share some lessons I am working on inspired by Dr. Williams.
We’ve enjoyed three Skype sessions with Dr. Rampersad who has been a Stanford faculty member since 1974 and also written books about W. E. B Dubois, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and others. The generosity of Dr. Rampersad cannot go unmentioned as he volunteered to Skype with any of the teachers present individually or in a smaller group to aid in research.
Dr. Tricia Rose
While Dr. Tricia Rose is most notably known for her books The Hip-Hop Wars and Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, her expertise and scholarship on 20th Century African American studies on politics, gender, social thought and popular culture allow her to reveal hidden layers in society that even well-read people have missed, or simply grown accustomed to over time. Her lecture mainly dealt with the practice of Redlining and how that still impacts African Americans, as well as other underserved minority communities to this day. While Dr. Rose is currently working on a new book, it will probably take me that long to unpack everything she shared at our institute. An interesting website to look at is Mapping Inequality.
Sylviane A. Diouf
Our visit to the Schomburg exploded into a unique talk given by the curator and director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library! Though soft-spoken, I could feel through her words a woman of achievement and a certain amount of power who still has to fight to bring education to the public. The two exhibits Sylviana A. Diouf worked tirelessly to present are Power in Print and Black Power! She let us know the irony of her speaking to us, for she had herself proposed an NEH institute for the summer, but she was denied because the readers felt it was propaganda. While there have been various exhibits about The Black Panthers, Diouf explains this is the FIRST exhibit strictly about Black Power.
Digital images of the two exhibits: Black Power! & Ready for the Revolution
Research at the Schomburg
Before arriving at the institute, I booked an appointment with the Schomburg research library in the Archives and Special Collections department and I was able to spend hours underground, reading letters written by Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Dubois, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many, many others! While entrenched in a tapestry of letter-language, the Harlem rain poured outside. At some point, I will write extensively about my specific research.
Navigating two worlds and a young life full of tragedy, Starr Carter drops into your view in that headline moment, at a party that is broken up due to a gun shot. While the obvious binary conflict of Power vs Oppression occurs in the moments after the party, when Starr and Khalil flee the party in his car, the less-than-visible conflict of Appearance vs Reality brings Starr’s different lives together. Will Starr have the strength to become one whole person?
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, but I must confess that at one point I felt like Thomas gave Starr too many problems to overcome and this somewhat slowed down the pacing of the novel. After completion, I changed my mind and I realized that the issues in the book, and in our country, are so complex that no one can fully realize the ramifications of one interaction. Obviously, if you are unwilling to have an open conversation of the black/white divide that continues to create conflict, then this book is not for you. Likewise, if reading about drugs, alcohol, and language that typical teenagers use, then don’t read this book. However, if you want to read a well-written book that depicts real problems and real feelings, then READ IT NOW! One of the most enjoyable aspects of Thomas’ writing is her realistic dialogue that allows you to feel like you are actually sitting in the car. For example, when Starr is in the park playing basketball with her brother, she ends up speaking for the first time to one of the neighborhood gang members with whom one of her friends acts ridiculous over, Starr says, “Yeah, I’ve heard about you. And you may wanna get some chapstick if your lips that dry, since you’re licking them so much” (147). This illustration reveals that if Starr can speak her mind to a known gang member, she may have the strength to be honest with herself and everyone else in her life.
“The professor never explained that was how she wanted the assignment done; therefore, we all got low grades. I wish she’d just tell us what she wants.”
I’ve heard collegues voice this complaint too many times to count. These are adult, graduate students attending universities from Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount University, California State University, Northridge, amongst others. The gap between what the professor expects in her mind, and what she receives from graduate-level, or shall we say professional learners, is reflected in the grades. Does the grade reflect my colleagues’ understandings and capabilities? Of course not. Should they be afforded the chance to redo the assignment to meet the unexplained criteria of the professor? Should they have to redo the work?
My answer to that question is with my own question: Do you allow your high school students the chance to redo assignments and assessments in your classes?
High school students experience the same frustrations after receiving a low grade for their work, and they are still developing the critical thinking skills required to articulate statements beyond, “The teacher sucks. . .the class is stupid anyway. . .or, next time I just won’t do the assignment.” Without the support of an involved parent, students often defend themselves by becoming angry at the class or the teacher and eventually completely shut down and stop attempting to do the classwork. The problem with the typical grading systems have long been discussed by teachers, and I wrote a lengthy blog post about the issue in Part One.
Feedback vs. Grading
As most assignments are practice for what will eventually be on a summative assessment, then it follows that most assignments are at least partially, formative assessments. The purpose of formative assessments is to guide the teacher in planning which lessons the students still need in order to achieve the learning outcomes on the final assessment. Obviously, nobody practices perfectly. Teacher feedback should then be followed by student reflection. In this moment, the teacher helps students build their critical thinking skills in analyzing the space between what they turned in and what skills they still need to learn to gain mastery of a learning objective. Equally, this is a moment for the student to voice why s/he completed an assignment in a particular format and also point to places where s/he disagrees with teacher feedback.
Student Input on Grades
While I’ve heard amazing educators speak about how their schools are gradeless, I think many of us work in schools or districts where this would not be possible (at least not in the foreseeable future). Therefore, I’m attempting to find ways to work within the grading system so that I may better serve students who struggle to achieve learning – without them becoming frustrated by the grading parameters. What if part of the reflective process incorporated students assigning their own grade on larger projects and essays and then providing justification for the grade? Whenever there is a huge discrepancy in the student’s self-grade and what the teacher believes the grade should be, this would require a personal conversation where the student and teacher get to explain their thought process and ask each other questions.
I am guilty of every possible grading mistake a teacher can possibly make in their career! During last semester, I particularly focused on how day-to-day assignments are graded and what specific impact that has on the student. In the upcoming school year, I will experiment with incorporating student input into the grades and teaching the critical skills necessary to be self-reflective learners.
I am super curious to hear how other teachers struggle with the grading system and how they are addressing the issues in their classrooms.
I’ve worked with Lisa Harrison in the Special Education department for over five years. As an RSP teacher (Resource Service Provider), she is passionate about helping students with autism overcome social obstacles to be able to communicate feelings and develop the skills necessary for friendship. This year, Lisa has utilized a mindfulness practice in her 6th period resource class. But let me take a moment to describe the class: Imagine a room full of wiggly high schoolers, during a 6th period class who are supposed to be completing homework, and then imagine asking them to pause for ten minutes and breathe.
On the last day of school this year, I had the opportunity to interview Lisa and ask her 5 questions about mindfulness in the classroom.
* I recorded the interview on my iPhone, while excited students finished with finals celebrated outside the classroom. You can listen here, or read below!
What inspired you to bring mindfulness into the classroom?
At the start of the interview, Lisa referenced a PD we had before the school year a couple of years ago where representatives from Goldie Hawn’s Mind-Up program came in and talked to teachers. She was interested in how the program
“helps develop student’s potential brain [thinking process] and the ability to calm themselves.”
What were your biggest fears about trying to introduce this practice to students?
“The biggest fear was whether or not I could get the students’ buy-in. Once I started it with one of my classes, I went gung-ho and realized that not everyone’s comfortable sitting there with their eyes closed, so I kind of had to adjust.”
What did you do to adapt?
“I looked at different programs to see what they were doing. Some of the programs require more teaching. Some of them are with all of the senses and that was tough to do in a resource class so I had to adapt and just go to the breathing techniques.”
How has the practice impacted you as a teacher, or how do you think it has impacted the students?
“It’s helped me quite a bit to get grounded and ready for the chaos that can be sixth period. I think it’s helped the kids too, because the kids come in, after doing it all year, some of the kids come in looking forward to it.”
What advice would you give other teachers that might be interested in sharing mindfulness with their students?
“I would say research the different programs and do what you’re comfortable with. Rushing into it, telling people ‘sit down! Be quiet! Don’t move! isn’t conducive to relaxation. There’s so many different ways to come at it, you can do the breathing which is more like a meditation. You can do the senses and have them listen to something and focus on something. You can do body scans. There are just so many different options.”
As a special education teacher, I can attest to the numerous distractions and extreme issues that students can walk into the classroom with-and this is not always visible to people around the student. While some students exhibit behaviors that tell the teacher something isn’t right in life, other students can shut down completely, or put on the “I’m fine” face. I truly appreciate teachers like Lisa who are brave enough to take valuable class time and teach students skills and tools that let them feel in control of how to react and get through challenges in life.
Two women who never truly met, whose lives intertwine and mirror each other in surprising and alarming experiences, create a masterfully told story of a past that is constantly being rewritten. No matter how much you know about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, this book reveals the passions and struggles faced by all women in the time periods and every reader will gain historical insights that help bring literature to life.
There is a divide between teachers and administrators when it comes to addressing the needs of lower performing readers. Administrators want data in the form of charts, graphs, and test scores to show parents how the school is raising the reading level of their child while teachers want time for reading, choice books in hands, and discussions about personal connections, intertext connections and world connections. The battle plays out year after year and when there is a new administrator, teachers think, for a moment, this time things will be different.
But it’s always the same-the results are felt by students in classrooms all over America. The school buys a “Magic Program” that if used with fidelity, Lexile scores will increase and the charts will look pretty. The discussion is not about the students or tapping into engagement strategies such as student interest, and this results in frustrated teachers and even more frustrated students who learn only that reading is boring, and a chore.
I’ve been through so many different professional developments on various reading programs such as: Language! and LindaMood Bell and Achieve 3000. While each program sells administrators with data, I’m not sure if administrators question the efficacy of the data–Which student population produced this result?-How many hours a day did students use the program?-How many students was each teacher/facilitator working with for the duration of the program? As a high school teacher, I have found most programs to be extremely limiting in regards to student interest and choice.
This year, I have a new administrator. And I think things will be different. Over a portion of the summer, I get to work with two other amazing educators and develop a curriculum for struggling readers. Yes, it will include a program; however, it is a program that contains interesting material and it allows teachers to control how the lessons are taught and it allows for plenty of student choice.
Upon my suggestions and pleadings, my administrator purchased a three year subscription to the Pro Newsela for our students. I’ve used the unpaid version for various purposes with students, but the advantage to the paid version is that I can write my own directions for what I want students to do while reading, and also create my own writing prompts. The program also contains comprehension questions to allow teachers to give data to their administrators and also know which Lexile level will best challenge each student while reading.
I’ve brainstormed very simple uses for the program that I believe will benefit the students. Please note that not *all* activities should be done each day–and furthermore, I don’t believe the program should be used everyday. Most teachers understand that students need variety. While proficient readers internally monitor and adjust their reading strategies to match the challenges of a text, struggling readers have not learned these skills. Listed below are four ways I believe that Newsela can be combined with other strategies to address struggling readers.
Annotating is probably the most important skill to teach all readers. I tell students this is the way you have a conversation with the text. Unfortunately, if you do not teach *how* to annotate, and provide examples or sentence frames, students write summaries or small phrases such as: “I like this,” or “This is important.” My go-to tool for teaching annotation skills for nonfiction texts is Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note: Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by @KyleneBeers and Robert E. Probst @BobProbst. Annotating texts keeps students focused and helps them check understanding as they read.
Obviously, if a student struggles with reading, writing is even more problematic. Sometimes struggling readers can be good with creative writing and poetry, but when it comes to more formal academic style writing, they often don’t know where to start, or what details to include. For the last few years, my school has focused on how to promote critical thinking across the curriculum. One teacher shared a strategy that I have used ever since. The technique is SEE-I response which is detailed in Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum by Gerald. M. Nosich.
In my Methods of Teaching Special Education class with Sally Spencer, she introduced The Simple View of Reading originally posited by Gough and Tunmer in 1986:
Reading = Decoding + Comprehension
As teachers, we understand that comprehension can be shown through the annotations, through the SEE-I writing response-and various other projects and methods. Alternately, administrators want data-driven comprehension measurements that are derived from multiple choice questions from programs that measure Lexile levels. Newsela does have the data component and the best aspect (from the student perspective) is that after each article there are ONLY FOUR QUESTIONS! While teachers can go about their business of introducing engaging texts and making reading strategies visible, they can simultaneously collect data for administrators and parents in a less painful manner.
Finally, because texts do not exist in isolation, I want to utilize Newsela as a pairing with Poetry 180, a poetry website hosted by Billy Collins who is an amazing poet, and he was also U.S. PoetLaureate from 2001 to 2003. Students will read a poem from the website and then research an article that connects to ideas within the poem.
These are just my initial thought on Newsela–and I’m sure many more will tumble out at unexpected times. What are some ways you’ve used Newsela to cultivate readers in your classroom?
Last year, a student emailed me during the final week of school:
Dear Mrs. Lee,
I see you’ve given me a D. I want you to know I really tried in your class. I think I deserve a better grade than a D. If you don’t, well then I guess I don’t.
I checked the grades and her point average, a 62%, clearly point to a D. I’ve done my job, right? She earned a D, she gets a D. But something doesn’t feel right about simply boiling everything down to a number in a grading app to represent a three-dimensional student. I do further research:
Reviewing her essays, she writes tons of interesting details about the text; however, there is not any structure, or any of the component parts of an essay.
Her attendance is near perfect
In her other classes, she has all Fails, and one D
The previous year, she had all Fails and one D.
I reflect on how many insightful comments and questions she asked throughout the year.
Is it possible that something is being overlooked? Is there a part of student performance and engagement in the classroom that can’t be captured by grades? As a teacher of students with special needs, I am almost numb to the amount of Ds and Fs my students receive from the collection of their classes. The lesson my student learned last year, as evidenced in the email, is the lesson I want all students to learn: self-advocacy. She definitely has a voice and a healthy perspective on her worth as a student.
There is a quote arguably attributed on the internet to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This same sentiment has been made into cartoon sketches, videos, and it is often used for Special Education professional development. Despite this focus in schools on Universal Design, alternative assessments, choices in expression of knowledge, many students in special education programs continue to have multiple Fails because they don’t measure up to the rubric, the standards, the points.
I haven’t figured out how to articulate this thought clearly, but I will attempt to get the gist of it here. If students can do something, they get an A or B or C. If they can’t do it, they are graded and punished for what they do not know how to do on demand, in a certain format, under specific time constraints. While discussing this at a table with colleagues, a teacher voiced her opposition:
Obviously this is not my position. However, for students that consistently earn Ds and Fs, the effort to show-up is immeasurable. MindShift published an article, “The Emotional Weight of Being Graded, for Better or for Worse,” that discusses the impact of ‘bad’ grades on students’ mental health. Additionally, one professor of neuroscience and psychology is quoted several times explaining that students assess their own knowledge of a subject based on the grade they receive, and also, students are emotionally attached to the grades, which can dictate if they like or dislike the subject. Therefore, if a student Fails a class, s/he will feel that s/he does not know anything pertaining to the topic, and the student will develop an aversion to the subject because s/he received a negative grade in the class. Considering I work with teens with special needs who often have difficulties acknowledging, naming, and expressing their emotions, it is difficult to comprehend how damaging receiving 3-4 Ds and Fs on every report card is to their general feelings about education and self-worth.
While the emotional needs of a student cannot be a basis for assigning a grade, it is equally inappropriate to state that students who receive Ds and Fs aren’t trying hard enough in class. My teaching philosophy is that every kid wants to learn. There are multiple reasons why it can appear to a teacher that a student isn’t ‘trying hard enough.’ When a student struggles to understand a concept or subject, often, the student doesn’t understand how to ‘try.’ Sometimes teachers say, “All I want is for him to try,”-and when he attempts to–the result is the same D or F as he earned before this assignment.
At my table of colleagues, I told the story of a student who joined my English class in the middle of the year. He’s an 11th grader who has never attended a school for more than 10-20 days in a row. Many grade levels he did not even experience. He tells me about helping his grandmother set out products on the street in downtown LA to sell at 4 in the morning. The first writing assignment he completed in my class consisted of one sentence. Each assignment afterwards, I had someone helping him, even if it was an assessment–so that he could learn how to write a formal response to a text. We just completed a comparison essay on The Crucible and “Half-Hanged Mary” and he wrote the entire paper by himself. He wrote three full paragraphs that showed his position and used evidence from the two texts to support his position. I was thrilled beyond belief for his accomplishment; however, if I graded him on a rubric, he would receive a D or an F. He did not have any of the three components of an introduction paragraph, he did not write using transitions, and he did not have an in-depth analysis of each text. Despite this, while reading his paper, I felt like I was on a bicycle for the first time, riding without my hands, with a cool breeze guiding me to the next destination–and I know he had to have a similar feeling about his work and effort.
In the planning stages, I thought I could get all of my ideas in to one blog post. However, after writing everything, I will add a part two to discuss how I plan to approach grading for the next school year.
Snippets of conversations I’ve had, in person and digitally, with students over the past seven days:
“Mrs. Lee, can I turn in my classwork handwritten because I’ve been sleeping in my car and I don’t have internet access.”
A comment on Google Classroom over the weekend:
A senior dropping out of high school with only three weeks remaining, “Honestly, I have no idea what I’m going to do because I have no motivation.”
The Call for Help
While working as a teacher in the Special Education department is extremely rewarding, it can alternately be devastating and depressing. There are nights that I can’t sleep because I’m worried for my students. Not the typical English teacher concerns: Johny-Didn’t-Turn-In-His-Homework, but will my students have a safe, healthy and happy life?
A friend of mine recently blogged about sexual assaults on female students called “But Did We Teach Them to Self Advocate?” This provides me with two reminders. First, every teacher in every classroom USA deals with student tragedy. Secondly, many of my students, even at the high school level, cannot self-advocate. In fact, more than half of the IEPs I’ve read in my lifetime in this profession have some sort of goal related to self-advocacy.
Two weeks ago, a student with autism came to school early to talk to me about an argument he had with his mom. The student said, “She said I’d go to Hell if I don’t get over my anger.” This is an example of an 11th grade student with autism, who is struggling to pass English, Geometry, US History, etc., who is simultaneously walking around the school maintaining the belief that he can go to Hell which, in his mind, is probably a fiery pit full of of demons. While this example is not comparable to the student who sleeps in a car, this belief is debilitating for him and he is unable to emotionally handle this situation.
How to Respond
Over the years, I have learned that there are two basic, but vital steps involved in helping students who are in trouble. If you do both of these steps, you will help the student, and sometimes be able to sleep at night.
The first step is to truly hear the specific student when s/he is revealing a problem to you. For most kids, if they reported a family member said they might go to hell, I would acknowledge their emotional resilience and know this was not a true crisis. For a student with autism, when words are taken literally, and when the student repeats the words over and over, this can cause a breakdown.
The most important part of this step is just that –listen and hear the student in front of you. Oftentimes, we want to give advice and suggestions. Don’t. You are not an expert in handling student crisis, nor the student’s parent.
Connect the Student with an Expert
You have to know who the experts at your school are, so that you can connect the student with qualified assistance. Does your school have DIS counseling? Does your school have a social worker, or someone who can connect the student with a social worker? All too often, we as teachers don’t know about a program or contact at our school until a situation arises and we need to find out that information. If you are not sure what to do or whom to contact, speak to other teachers; speak to a special education teacher because we have resources and contacts on speed dial; speak to your supervisor. Investigate what programs and contacts your school has available to you and your students.
At the same time, each school has what I call ‘hidden’ resources- the person in the attendance office who collects backpacks and clothes for kids who need them, the person in the nurse’s office who collects funds to buy food for families going through a rough patch, etc. We are so lucky to work in schools where there are always an abundance of caring people who help out in ways we sometimes never know about until we need to know.
I love working as a Special Education teacher because I work to develop relationships of trust with students. Due to this, many students will come and share their problems. While I can’t solve their problems, or make them go away, I can always listen and connect them with someone that can truly help them. By doing this, most nights anyway, I can go to sleep.
Defining, embracing, and sharing SDC culture for high school teachers.