I have been reading a professional development book about helping those students who are struggling emotionally. I haven’t finished it yet so the blog post on that will have to wait but it brought up something I have been thinking about for a long time. Respecting my future students. Last week I went and visited my schools for student teaching and my cooperating teacher for sixth grade sat her students down and had a serious conversation with them about respect. It was a really important conversation but what was more important was that my teacher recognized her students as people. Granted they are only eleven, twelve, years old but they are old enough to be treated like people. She could have told them they are awful little children that need to start respecting their elders more but she chose to have a honest conversation with them about respect. She didn’t demean them in any way and it was really encouraging to see that she treats her students like people and not subordinates that she has to instruct.
Our students are people. They may be younger than us. They may have had a lot less life experiences then us but even as I type that I don’t think it is true. Sometimes educators and non educators overlook the fact that we expect students to be young adults and yet we don’t treat them like they are. When students enter high school as Freshmen in four very short years we are expecting them to enter college and know what they are going to be doing with the rest of their lives. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher and honestly it wasn’t until I was a Freshman in college that I knew teaching is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. However, we expect our students to be thinking about their futures as kindergartners. When I was five I either wanted to be a nurse or an artist. Considering I hate the sight of blood and needles freak me out and I have no real artistic talent I don’t think I was going to grow up to be either of those. My sister-in-law knew she wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten but we cannot expect that of all our students.
If we want our students to walk out of our school in four years mature, young adults ready to tackle college then we need to start preparing them for that in high school. That means that we need to start treating them like the people and young adults they are. Granted they haven’t been through four years of college yet but I guarantee you my future students have dealt with more crap than I will ever deal with. I grew up a pretty sheltered life and I am thankful to my parents for that. They have always loved and supported me but not all students have that kind of support. I was a camp counselor for three years and some of those kids came to me from broken abusive homes and camp was their one highlight out of the entire summer. Students are maturing at a younger age because they are being forced to.
One of my professors today said more than likely we would all be student teaching in rural white middle class communities and as I thought about where I am going to be student teaching I realized that isn’t true. The community where I will be student teaching is about fifty/fifty (Mexican/White). These Hispanic students are not coming from middle class backgrounds. They are poor. I have seen those communities, I have worked with those kids. I may be student teaching in Nebraska but that doesn’t mean my community is predominantly white and middle class. These students lives are rough and many times hearing their stories broke my heart.
These students coming into my classroom are young adults not because that is merely a label they were given but because they are adults in young bodies. They are already grown up and we need to start treating them like that. Yes, they are your students but in four years we are going to expect to start living on their own and start owning their own education. How can we expect that to happen if we don’t start at the high school level?