Wednesday, November 5, 2014

At-Risk Students

If you are new to teaching, get ready! You will have students who are at-risk in your classroom. As a teacher with 15 years experience, I cannot help but get emotional when I hear some of my students speak of their unique personal experiences in life. I have taught in the regular public school setting for 14 of my 15 years. This year my teaching world has changed. I now teach in a school with demographics that most would run from and never return. Let me explain the population of my school. I teach in a Rural Texas School District that houses a state facility for boys who have been charged with a felony crime. These boys are inner city Houston, inner city Dallas/Fort Worth, inner city San Antonio. That's right they have committed a felony crime which means some of my boys are charged with crimes that have shown up in your nightmares. There are about 63 children who come to my districts public school from the state facility. Every child in my classroom falls into the Special Education guidelines. I teach 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th English to boys who all have IEP's, BIP’s, ards, special needs, and felony charges. Half of the teenage boys cannot read when they walk through the door of my classroom. It is an understatement to say I have to be creative in my teaching practices. In my previous 14 years, I said the same thing at the end of every school year. How will I ever care about another class like I do this one? Guess what, even with the demographics that I explained above, I will now make it my 15th year of saying the same thing. How will I ever care about my future students like I do these boys? I am even surprised with feeling that way. How did I survive this, is what I should be saying, but hearing their stories throughout the year of their home environment makes it understandable. Although, my students have been charged with a crime, from experience I can tell you that many of the same type of students will at some point walk through your door. Have you every become frustrated and wondered why a child isn't completing their homework, doing there nightly reading, or bringing back papers signed? If you are like most teachers you have experienced these type of problems in your classroom. It is important that teachers look through the eyes of the children to have insight into their daily lives. I would like to help teachers understand many of the problems our children are facing when they walk out of the school doors to return to their environment. I hope when you finish reading this you will understand that sometimes completing a reading log or getting a paper signed is an unrealistic expectation for many of our at-risk students. Yesterday, I could not help but become emotional when a student told me his experiences in early life. Keep in mind, that when this young man walked into my classroom I was convinced I would never be able to teach this student. I have changed. Good teachers change, learn, and grow because of teaching and forming positive relationships with their students. I will call this student Sam for the sake of confidentiality. Sam came to my classroom about two months ago. The reason he had been brought to our rural town is because he refused instruction and could not contain his physical aggression. His inability to control his anger and aggression was the reason he had been charged with a felony. The first day he walked into my room he stated, “I wish I would of killed everyone.” I remember thinking…...noway, I cannot teach him. I am a public school teacher, not a prison guard. The first few weeks were tough! I would leave school in tears every night. I was convinced my love for teaching was destroyed. Thankfully, one day this changed. One day Sam walked into my room and for the first time we made a personal connection. I knew from ard meetings that Sam’s mom was confined in jail. I did not know why or how. Yesterday, I asked Sam how old he was when his mom left. That is when he proceeded to tell me the story. He said, “Ms., I wouldn’t be so angry if she wasn’t in jail and if I could see my mom.” I asked him what happened. He told me he was six years old. His mom called the police because his step dad had hit her. When the police walked into the house they found drugs above the stove. His mom told him to run. This six year old little boy got on his bike. He then rode to his grandmothers. When he returned to his house she was gone. Just like that. He is now 15 years old. I cannot even imagine how a six year old, at dark rides his bike to his grandmothers, and then comes back home to an empty house. I can not grasp the thought of a mother leaving her child behind to avoid the police. He has spent the past 9 years not knowing if things could have been different. In his mind he thought if he had done something to help her she would not have left him. You and I know a six year old cannot control what his parents allow. This child didn't have the ability to understand that concept. Now imagine before the bust. He was probably in a first grade classroom. Do you think it is realistic to expect this child to have his reading log signed? To complete 30 minutes of homework? I do not think it is at all reasonable. Many teachers punish children like this, telling them to be more responsible. How can anyone be more responsible than trying to protect his mother, trying to protect his life? I do not excuse crimes committed by these children; However, I do understand the need of a positive role model and the need for teachers to be flexible and realistic in their expectations. Not all students have the luxury of having a parent who cares.