Educators in urban schools are constantly trying to figure out how to get students to perform better academically. Some establish strategies that help children achieve academic success. Others simply maintain the status quo. Some simply do not believe anything can be done to help urban students achieve. A colleague of mine and I debate often about how to confront this issue; he says that it doesn’t matter the conditions of a student outside of school – the school can and must get kids to succeed. I argue that it starts at home; that a strong support system and a stable home life where a child is socially, emotionally and intellectually nurtured is what produces students who are ready to achieve. I understand that it is a little bit of both; however I enjoy the banter; iron sharpening iron.
In urban education, we are confronted with situations that make us question what we can do as educators and what families can do to facilitate academic growth and success of students. My colleagues and I are often confronted by students who display negative behavior as a reaction to what happens at home. When we confront parents, we unfortunately see a cycle or pattern that is unsettling. In education, those that really care always want to do more. However, every good educator knows that there is very little they can do outside the classroom, even when they do much.
Moment of the Week
I was walking in the cafeteria at my school and I saw one of my students was upset. I asked the student what was going on and he told me that life was just too much. I left that room hoping that things were okay with him. I later found out that there was an incident between this student and a parent the day before that started as an argument but turned ugly. I actually saw this student the day before sitting at a college campus where he said he was waiting to go to a family member’s house immediately after the incident.
While in my office, the student’s grandparent and parent came to the school to visit him. They went outside and talked for 10 minutes and the student was returned to me and I spoke with them. Unfortunately, the student had experienced the death of a parent, and the death had been understandably tough on the student and the surviving parent. Long story short, a confrontation took place at the home of this family. Upon finding out the information and consulting with my building principal and our counseling services, I had to make a phone call to the Division of Youth and Family Services to check in on the family. I never had to do that previously. It was a tough phone call to make, but it had to be made.
The student and I spoke… he cried… we embraced… he went back to class and I went back to my office. I knew the details sounding the issues facing this student. He had a history of unhealthy behavior and quite naturally, I was upset at what he was doing. There is so much that I wanted to do at that point to help. In my heart of hearts however, I understood that there was nothing that I could really do. By law, there is only so much that I can do as an educator. There is so much more that I can do as a person outside of education, but is there really? I can put band-aids on wounds but band-aids wear away, fall off and need to be replaced. Wounds however take investment that I, or anyone, may or may not be able to make.
Lesson of the Week
There is so much that I want to do to help my students and their families. For me, it is not about just their academic achievement; I want these students to achieve in life. I want these students to become law abiding and educated citizens that are pillars of their families and communities. Many in education have that goal as well. Yet in order for us to do that, we must confront some of the tough realities that our students face. Tough upbringings, while they are prevalent amongst urban school populations, are not limited to urban school students. All people struggle with challenging life circumstances that can either strengthen them or break them. Educators have to tap into their humanity to unlock compassion for others. Without compassion, you cannot educate.
Educators have to also understand that they cannot do everything; it is just not possible. Educators can plant seeds. Others can water the ground. Others can help water the ground. Others can monitor growth. Others can cultivate more soil for more seeds to fall on. Some educators can prune. Some educators can record the process for replication. Alone, we can only do so much. Together, we can do exceedingly, abundantly and above what we could have ever imagined. We’ve got to be smart and being smart means knowing your lane and staying in it. If you teach, stay in your lane and plant seeds in the classroom or cultivate those seeds in the classroom. If you are a counselor, stay in your lane and plant new seeds or cultivate others through your advising.
Educators must work together; understand that we can do more together rather than working in isolation and that the best way to promote cooperation is to put your focus on the needs of others rather than the need of egos.