Last summer during my Reading Specialist course, my instructor (Janet Lee Stinson) shared a story that has stuck with me. She was explaining a difficult class she taught in Washington, D.C. as a beginning teacher. She showed us a picture of one of the students that was in her class. She explained the look on the student's face as one of discontent and challenge. The attitude coming through this student's stare and posture was clear: "Teach Me," it dared.
We face students everyday that do not feel that they belong in our class. Their personal lives inhibit them from investing fully in our activities. Their experiences have aged them from risk-taking in their learning. But, they are the reason that we are in the classroom. Many of our students don't even need us there. They are self-directed and goal-driven. We simply check-in from time-to-time to make sure that they are still on the right track. The ones who need our help - don't usually ask for it.
How can we teach students who approach learning as if it is a battle? How do we convince them that rather than standing on opposite sides of the battlefield; we are actually side-by-side against the world? I think the answer is cautiously, patiently and with growing focus. Start simple and build a rapport before you expect them to become a new person. They need to come to terms with powerful things before they put their trust in a teacher. But if you can get them to that point - they will thank you for it. The two best words in the teacher language are "thank you." When a student says this to you, it reminds you of the strong influence and role that you play in their life.
As an aside, I encourage you to check out Janet Lee's Webpage on "Arnie's Dream" and support her campaign to publish "Feathers of Hope." The story she tells is inspiring and it belongs in hard-cover. The instruction she gave me was part of my path to create this blog and put myself out there. I hope to give back some of the inspiration by passing on her goal and asking you to listen to Arnie's story.