TEDTalk: Help for Kids the Education System Forgets

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

One of the best TED Talks I’ve seen in a while was by Victor Rios, a sociology professor at the University of California. The segment, titled “Help for kids the education system ignores” was poignant, direct, and necessary. His speech highlighted how some of our neediest students are falling through the cracks, and what our mandate – as teachers – is to plug the sieve.

Rios asks us to re-identify ourselves with these students. Instead of classifying them as “at-risk” or “dropout,” we could look at them as “at-promise.” Additionally, he pontificates – “we need to rid ourselves of deficit perspectives.” If we look at students as someone who has something to offer rather than a vessel that needs to be filled, we can turn the way we educate these children on a paradigm.

Indeed, there is something in a label, and if the connotation is negative, should we ever expect the outcome to be any different?

If the connotation with a student is negative, should we ever expect the outcome to be any… Click To Tweet

Take a second and mentally scan the students who more or less occupy your room. Think about those you envision being in the principal’s office regularly. What can be done to help them turn away from the “school-to-prison pipeline?” How can we fend off their inevitability to end up there, on a street corner, as a teenage parent, or, worse, dead. There’s so much going on their heads each day, that one of the last things on their mind is probably their education. But it can be done. They can turn around.

Rios was one of those kids. He said it took a lot. Most of all, it took a teacher.

“Ms. Russ,” he says, was “always one of those teachers who was all up in your business.” But that’s because she cared. Additionally, Ms. Russ didn’t take the baggage of this “forgotten” student. No. She instead told him that she was “here whenever you’re ready.”

Rios found this to be important, because he labeled forgotten students like himself as “oysters.” Whenever they are ready to open up, they’ll do so on their own. Yet if nobody is there to see them, they’ll clam back up again.

To get there, these students need resources. It’s no secret how under-resourced students lacking privilege are. They typically go to underfunded, over-stressed schools and congregate that way, while, even if they go to schools on a firm footing, there aren’t many resources available at home, which includes tangible things (like Internet connection, books, instruments, etc) and non-tangibles (such as parental attention, time dedicated to self-directed learning, and so on). Additionally, they need mentors. They need training. They need support groups. They need us.

He reminds us that gritdespite what Angela Duckworth proclaimscan and will only get these students so far. To get them further, they need more support. Much of that can begin and end in the classroom.

To close, Rios recollects that Ms. Russ had him tricked. She “believed in him so much, she tricked him into believing in himself.” Today, this former gang member who was on probation is now a PhD. While not everyone of these students can reach this pinnacle, shouldn’t we help them try to get there?

Better question yet — isn’t that what we should do for every student?

It’s relatively easier teaching the bright kids. If you want to re-engage yourself with why you entered this profession, watch Rios’s TEDTalk and start saving kids again.

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About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

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