Are You Listening?

When a student doesn’t have their homework in class, do you realize it is because they were up all night taking care of their siblings because their parents were at work?

If a student refuses to look you in the eye when they talk to you, do you realize it is because it is a sign of disrespect in their culture?

When that boy in the hallway punches the third kid in a week, do you realize he gets hit when he is at home by his father?

If you ask a kid to do something in class and they never do it, do you realize it is because they don’t know how to do it?

When you get frustrated with that kid in the back of the room that does no homework, never participates, and stares out the window, do you realize he has seen his father attempt suicide and is living with his grandma?

If you have a student disrespects you in the hallway, do you realize that you as the teacher have never earned their respect, but rather demanded it?

When the student in your first period class is late on a regular basis, do you realize she walks to school because her mom went out one night and has yet to come home.

So, what is the point of this? The point is, teachers need to get to know their students and connect with them on a personal level. We cannot make assumptions about students and be naïve to think we know what is really going on in their lives. As teachers we have to remember that these students have lives outside of school and not all of them are what we would describe as educationally supportive and nurturing. When we make those connections, it is a powerful tool in education. You will be amazed what a student will do for an adult that shows interest and care in their lives.

I challenge myself not to jump to conclusions and make judgments about a student. In almost all cases of student behavior, good or bad, there is a story behind it.

Do you spend enough time listening to your students to hear their stories?


Anna Varna said...

Thanks for this post. I have been thinking about this lately too. Working in a rural area brings me face to face with many situations like this. Assigning homework for example we have to take into account that most students don't have internet connections, don't have encyclopedias, don't have any resources apart from their school books.
But my personal favourite story comes from a third grade girl whose parents are shepherds and tells me she sometimes has to do her English homework at the sheep pen! How can you not to reward such a student?

Mrs. Sheldon said...

What an insightful post. Thank you for reminding us that there's so much more involved with teaching. I teach in a rural CTE school, and find these situations to be the "norm." It was shocking when I first started to be honest. I always think of my Mom's advice when I began teaching: "Remember, every student you have is someone's 'baby'." I know that may not sound very meaningful, but it helps me treat each student as I would want my children treated. Thanks for the reminder!

Tom Altepeter said...

Appreciate the reminder for all of us to pay attention. Listen. Love.

crevola said...

Reflective and insightful and something we all need to remember as teachers and as compassionate human beings in our everyday lives. The homeless, the beggars, the street gangs - it is hard to pull o our compassion at times in our busy lives, but we must, it is our human responsibility.
Thank you again for being such a compassionate teacher your students are indeed lucky to have you.

bknrd5974 said...

Thank you putting into words what I try to keep in mind everyday for the last 18 years I've been an educator. My goal is to make my area of the school a "safe" place. A place where students feel accepted & cared about.

Brad Hughes said...

For better or for worse, student behaviour is a response to some kind of need. Discover the need and you have the opportunity to replace negative or non-productive behaviour with alternatives -time, attention, patience, support, respect, compassion - that help meet that need.

ClassProf said...

Well said, Josh. A nice, reflective, focused and professional article to remind and challenge each of us.

Ms. Anteau said...

Thank you for saying so well what I fight to help others realize. I serve students who receive special education services. These students may have any and all of the things going on in their lives that you identified - plus they have the the added burden of school failure - even if they are successful now - because to qualify for sped services one must fail first. I must say that I work with amazing youth who come back day after day to a system that often does not recognize their efforts and needs. To one that has so many who look at students and student behavior with their own version of "rose colored glasses" - to one where so many just don't realize - that the students "would if they could". Students come to places where people judge and don't bother to figure out why they "aren't" and therefore aren't working to help make it so students "can". It frustrates me to no end and something I work daily to change. Thank you again for putting to words, what I happen to hold as one of my core beliefs.

sam said...

A very useful and relevant post. I'm currently working in a remote Indigenous community, Australia, and I have found that the only way I can connect to with students is by trying to understand where they have come from and why they may behave like they do. Behaviour and retention rates are huge problems in our school, which we're constanly wrestling with. We sometimes forget why these issues are such problems. These students may have not eaten that morning, they may not have slept at all the night before, or they may have witnessed or experienced physical or emotional abuse from their elders. As teachers we must always be willing to ignore our first and often irrational judgements and put ourselves in the postion of our students. How would we have reacted under similar emotional pressures?