24 September 2010

Students need to know we care before they care about what we know


Schools are opening across the country – we have probably been thinking about how the opening went and already have begun to think about how we will do things differently next year.
There was an interesting article in the Washington Post on Mon 20 Sep, 2010.  The young man from Guatemala made it through HS and is now enrolled in a community college; based on the prevailing odds, he should have been involved in gangs and dropped out of school.  But, he did not.  He managed to learn English, while holding down a job that got him home at 1 AM, after a one hour bus ride to and from the job.  When he got home, he completed his homework.  His father left him some money and a note, telling the youngster that he was going back home, resulting in the young man being placed in a series of foster homes.
Yet – he not only survived, he thrived, graduating from HS with 3.5 average.  How did he do that?  According to the article, teachers, staff, and administrators played a key part in his success.  They gave him money before a weekend to buy food that they knew he could not buy; they gave him presents on his birthday so he would have packages to open; they listened to him.  They built a relationship with him.
When I completed my undergraduate work, building relationships with your students was not mentioned.  You were told to teach the content.  Today, relationships are much more important.  However, I am reminded of something that John Lounsbury, one of the founding fathers of the middle school movement, said at one time.  I cannot find the exact phrase, but the thought has always remained with me – children need to know that we care before they care about what we know.
That became my mantra when I was teaching 7-12 and I have tried to follow that advice in higher education.  Let us make it our goal to build relationships with students to help them succeed.

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