By Ryan Steuer, Decautur Middle School, Indianapolis
I teach because the news is depressing. When you turn on the news or read the paper, you see crime, murder, and poverty running unchecked. For every triple homicide, suicide or theft in the news, some young person you don’t hear about is directly affected by it.
The young man who was gunned down on the east side? That was Jimmy’s cousin.
That veteran with PTSD who went a little nuts last week? He’s Alice’s older brother.
Oh, and that crazy woman who went to jail for stabbing her husband? Well, that means that Tricia now lives with her grandmother, the one who drinks heavily.
But the world doesn’t really care about what is going on, and so we expect Jimmy, Alice and Tricia, all of them just 14, to pay attention to their teachers, do well on standardized tests, graduate, get jobs and raise families. Not likely, not unless we offer help.
Jimmy, Alice and Tricia are why I teach. If I don’t help them to see that there is more to life than what they are experiencing right now, then who will? Are they expected to make it on their own with little or no guidance? Would an adult recover well from these experiences? Instead of wondering why they act out in class, we should be marvelling that they make it through the day. Kids are strong and passionate, but they sometimes need to be reminded (or convinced) that they have strength, and they need to know where to direct their passion. That is why I teach.
So how do you teach kids like Jimmy, Alice and Tricia while you also have another 100 kids with their own varying baggage? I saw a T-shirt once that said “Helping kids isn’t rocket science. It is much more difficult and much more important.” The t-shirt has it right: teaching is more difficult, but, while good teaching is not easy, it is simple in one important way. You must treat all children the same! Not “all the same” as a cog in a machine, sit in a row and do this worksheet “all the same.” To me, “all the same” means seeing the uniqueness and infinite potential of each learner, whether they are a hot mess or appear to have it all together. Because ultimately, everyone needs to know they have strength, and everyone wants to work in their passion.
How do you change the depressing news? You go to the generation that is coming up and is unwillingly subjected to the negativity, and you lift them up. How do you find out what Jimmy, Alice, Tricia and every other youngster has going on that they don’t talk to anybody about? You show them you care and then you listen. Pretty simple.
After all, it’s not rocket science.
Reprinted with permission from Education Week.