There are a plethora of reasons, and so many of them are physical or emotional at the root. Perhaps they live with adults that work double shifts and aren’t often home. Perhaps their position in the sibling lineup makes them feel overly responsible, overlooked, or overly babied. Perhaps they go to bed late, then wake up early to catch the bus or walk to school alone. Perhaps their breakfasts are unbalanced, if they eat one at all. Perhaps they’re insecure about wearing hand-me-down or off-brand clothing. Perhaps they’re copying negative or dangerous behaviors that are demonstrated to them by their role models. Perhaps they haven’t mastered the mainstream language.
Whether our students come from real or perceived sub-optimal situations, Dawn Henderson implores us to recognize how seriously student emotions and physical state can impede learning, especially for English learners. ELs carry frustration and stress, insecurity and aggression, and the impacts translate to heart-heavy educational statistics — suspension and drop-out rates, test scores, under-representation in gifted and talented programs, and over-representation in special education.
More than one of my teacher colleagues has sighed over how much easier it would be if all we had to do was… teach. But in order to teach, we must first nurture our students on a more basic level and make our classrooms safe havens. We seriously need to ADVOCATE for our students outside the classroom, as well. Coblentz and Moreno make the point that we must rethink how we talk about students because we spend “countless hours nurturing a student’s self-image in the classroom, [but] what ends up being communicated to the family and the community about academic achievement…becomes centered on what needs to be fixed.” We try to convince our students that they are intelligent, valued, and worthy of attention, and yet they are described by words like Minimal, Basic, and Low as soon as they leave the classroom.
It requires a split personality: On the one hand, without the data, we can’t know which of our students have the greatest needs. On the other, by calling attention to their deficits, we come to see the students themselves as problems to be fixed.
What a trap. But I’ve met enough phenomenal teachers to know that it is possible to look at statistics and strategize accordingly, while continuing to love students for the beings they are at their core. And if that is one of your own gifts, I’m so glad you’re a teacher.