I know a kid who hated school. He hated waking up early. He hated the endless criticism. He hated reading boring books. He hated writing boring essays.
He he’d lay on the bathroom floor before school. He’d fake sick, argue with mom about why he had to go that day. He tried it all.
He didn’t really have anything important to do. He wanted to stay home to play video games and watch tv.
This went on for years. Many years. Getting up early. Going to school. Another year. Another boring book. Another boring essay with boring topics and unimportant formats.
A Spark of Interest
A high school teacher told him one day that he was a good writer. The teacher told him that he also questioned the education system. The boy could tell, this guy “got it.” He was willing to work for this teacher.
At some point during that year the boy actually started to believe that he did have potential. Despite years of his ideas and work being criticized maybe he did have potential. learning was fun. The subject matter that year wasn’t always fun but the act of learning was.
What if Learning Didn’t Mean Just Learning School Stuff?
The freedom to write without criticism that year was a breakthrough. The freedom to choose his book that year was also a breakthrough.
He discovered an untapped world of interesting things to read. Video game guides. Books about professional athletes. Books about getting stronger. Books about getting faster. This was amazing. Why hadn’t anyone told him these things had existed before?
It was almost too late to get him hooked as a reader by the time he found out.
He kept going once he got started. One book led to another. And another. He was hooked.
It only took one teacher to get through to that kid. One comment in a sea of negative feedback reversed the tide.
What ever happened to that kid?
That kid later went on to get a journalism degree. He went on for a teaching degree and is now completing a Master’s degree.
That kid was me.
I see kids who hate the way school is currently designed every day. I understand them. They are not wrong.
What can you do to connect with these kids?
Your actions and words as a teacher matter. You have the power to change the course of someone’s life. You can use that power for good.
Ask those kids about their interests. They don’t say much? Ask again.
Still not saying much? Ask them to put it in writing. (Have the entire class do this).
Take those topics that those students mention and talk to them about them. Yes, it really is that easy.
Give them time during the school day to read about their interests. To study their interests. To write about their interests.
Talk about times you had disagreements about the way schools are organized. We all know they aren’t perfect.
Find something specific that kid is doing well and compliment them on it. Cut them some slack on the criticism too. They hear enough of it.
Try to bridge a gap between your lessons and their interests. It will require some creativity but you are a teacher. You can do it.
Lastly, don’t give up. Keep planting seeds of conversation with these kids. Make it a point to find something they are doing right and let them know it.
That’s why you got into teaching isn’t it? To change lives?