As a young teacher who really didn't know much about how to teach kids, despite what my crisp diploma indicated, I knew in very short order that there was more to the game than I had bargained for. The variables that affect a child's ability to achieve in school are overwhelming for teachers; genetic variables, social variables, cognitive variables... and we're not even the ones suffering the effects personally. Knowing how much these variables affect our disposition and state of balance, imagine how much they affect the kids who manifest them.
I'm not sure, to be honest, if most kids who are born knowing nothing different than the environment that these variables shape and form really are affected all that much. The environment kids are born into is all they know, and therefore becomes their default "normal." In my experience, it's not until children get older, usually around the middle school age, that they begin to realize that the other kids don't necessarily live the same sort of life they do. This is when a different perspective begins to take shape. The child's private logic becomes altered. I believe it's at this time in a young persons' life that supports are most critical, and they need to be maintained through to adulthood.
The question is, really, where are these supports supposed to come from? There are differences of opinion on this, but the research reality is that in an overwhelming large number of cases, this support comes from a teacher. For this reason it is massively important that all teachers are ready to respond positively when a student decides to seek their support. How can we be ready to face this challenge? To me the answer is simple... we need to understand resilience; we need to be resilient ourselves and we need to know how to foster resilience in others. Resilience is nothing new, but the formal study of risk, resilience and recovery has been altering the perspective of conventional wisdom in contemporary fields of psychology, social work, education and other social sciences lately, and I'm happy about that.
Whether we understand why a child chooses one of us to be the person he reaches out to for care and support doesn't matter; we just need to be ready to respond appropriately and effectively. Teachers need to consider ourselves as process advocates in a wrap-a-round system that can be daunting for those most vulnerable and disengaged. In lieu of judgment and deficit-based thinking, we need to adopt a strengths-based focus that divines the good in young people experiencing distress and hardship. There is no other way.
I'm interested to hear how teachers do this... how have you supported a young person in distress, and more importantly, how did your support help? Often we may never know years later after our connection is lost, but it validates everything we do when we are privileged to know. There is nothing better and more uplifting for teachers to hear a story of success about one of their more challenged kids.
I would like to hear your success stories. We don't tell them often enough.
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