At-risk students: Who cares?

At-risk students: Who cares?

Why most teachers struggle with the at-risk student

In my experiences, with at-risk youth in charter schools for about seven years, I’ve found that major problems exist between imparting academics and effective social integration.

The biggest hindrance is the inexperienced teacher, the unconcerned teacher, the ineffectiveness of the school culture as a learning community and the lack of appropriate resources [all of which are not the scope of this article].

In this article I am going to reveal what I think is the number one catalyst to helping at-risk students make learning and social integration gains.

There are a number of factors to consider when delivering content and developing socially adjusted students. Here is the short list:

1)    “Teachers are from Mars and students are from Venus”

Teachers are typically from middle to upper income families raised with both parents and a supporting family unit. Even if the teacher is from a single parent low-income household, the values in the home are often the same as the aspiring middle class. In essence the teacher is confident of her/his ability and seeks to obtain knowledge (without being forced) as a lifelong commitment or attained goal.

At-risk students are from lower to middle-income families with one parent in the household whether divorced, separated or never married; with other siblings and a less structured family unit. The parent resources are focused on survival or day-to-day struggles. This situation presents emotional discomfort; having its own set of counteracting, negative idiosyncrasies in the family unit.

A typical first year high school at-risk student has been in the principal’s office most of their pre-adult academic career. This particular student is obviously out of class more often than other students because of home life, family situations or mounting referrals. The at-risk student has not learned how to study and retain knowledge in a traditional manner but is deftly skilled at getting out academic situations; which helps to avoid embarrassing moments with peers.

This student is likely to come off as rude, uncaring and insensitive to authority, rules and policies.

Inexperienced teachers generally sympathize not empathize with students they instruct and can be numb to the social and academic horrors lurking beneath the surface. These slightly buried dynamics paralyze the at-risk student and trigger unwanted behaviors.

As a teacher you must step outside you comfort zone and search for solutions for the individual students not the masses. Find out what each student needs to be successful.

2)    “I (the teacher) am the supreme authority and ruler over all

classroom activities.” “I’ve earned the right to control you and you’d better %#*# well listen to me!”

Yes, it is hard work to become a teacher and the road is littered with people who have abandoned the profession to take on other professions which yield more income.

But to think that students will respect you and follow your every command is stuff of fairy tale classrooms in “Far Far Away Land”.

The at-risk child doesn’t have a great track record of teachers or any adult helping them socially integrate or achieve anything positive. This student has been dismissed, in all likelihood, by his parents and others in and outside her/his family unit as a Good for nothing you fill in the blank loser.

I have witnessed cases upon cases whereby students were not supported by their parents, teachers and other adults. And in my presence the students were sometimes reminded of their loser status.

We as educators are the first and many times the last line of defense.  We must first earn the respect of the student and commit to helping them with their barriers. As well, we should follow through on a commitment. If not, we will be in the same group as every other adult who has let them down before the age of 18 years old.

Here is a quick list for success with the at-risk student:

Meet with them one-on-one.

Find out their motivation/position in life.

Give them hope.

Offer your help.

Find out their modality of learning.

Incorporate ways for them to be successful within their peer group/classroom.

Find out their pains and concerns daily – address them right away.

Compliment them on their small, medium and large academic successes.

Follow through – Follow through

How can we up skill America if we don’t start in our classrooms?

Leo Cole is an educator, artist, entrepreneur, musician, and blogger.



One thought on “At-risk students: Who cares?

  1. Pingback: Listening and Hearing Are Related And Different « James R. Eberts

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