I recently learned that our building had something really cool happen this school year. A local shoe company donated shoes for students in our building. Not just for students who have a financial need, but for all of the students in our building. What a blessing and a gift that was for our community!
As I thought about this kind gesture, I realized that this time of year can be tough for many families as they struggle to purchase new clothes and shoes for their kids. It was a great reminder for me that I need to put myself in my students’ shoes as I think about how I structure my day and what additional resources I can provide for my students to help them succeed.
Getting to Know Your Students’ Reality
I first taught in a school where there was a vast difference in the students’ socioeconomic statuses. Students who worked on farms or ranches and others who lived in million-dollar homes—all going to the same middle school.
Some students had family members who were prominent businesspeople in the community and access to all of the resources they would need. Other students qualified for free or reduced lunch and came from families living below the poverty line. In some cases, students and their families were homeless, living in hotels and sometimes cars.
This goes to show that some students overcome enormous obstacles just to get to school every day. Knowing this will better prepare you for the students who may come to you each morning.
Take, for example, something as simple as a morning schedule. I always thought my students had the same basic routine as me in the morning. I get up, take a shower, eat some breakfast, brush my teeth, and head out to work. However, a number of my students don’t even have food or running water at home because their families can’t afford to pay the bills.
Once I took the time to learn about these situations and developed an awareness of the issues my students were facing, I became more mindful of all of the students in my classroom and, ultimately, better prepared as an educator.
How to be Better Serve Learners from All Walks of Life
Take time to get to know where your students are coming from to get a better idea of what their needs are. Build relationships with students and their families. And make a point to talk to the school counselor or previous year’s teacher to get some advice on what was helpful in the past. Here are six more tips for helping students and families in need:
Stay Positive: Greet students every day with a smile and a handshake. Find something genuinely positive to build them up each day. Take every opportunity to celebrate their gifts and talents.
Focus on What You Can Control: As much as we would like to find a way to provide everything our students need, we can only have them in our care during the school day. Think about the small ways you can make a difference for your students. Have extra snacks in your desk available, and send some home in the afternoon if they need it. Feed their stomachs and you will help feed their minds.
Advocate: If you hear or see that your students are being abused in some way, you are a mandated reporter. Seek assistance from your administrators to help notify the authorities. In the classroom, ensure that your at-risk students are given the same opportunities in school as their peers.
Build Positive Relationships with Families: Reach out to families any way that you can throughout the year. Let them know that you are there to help and that you can help get them to locate other resources they need.
Learn What Families Need: When talking with parents, get to know them and build respect, but also determine what needs they have. You might be able to support them through a local church, family counseling services, etc. Many families are reluctant to ask for help, so it is important to build that rapport in the beginning.
Maintain High Expectations: Students will not reach their potential unless you expect the most of out them. When they are at school, they need to be accountable for the same level of work as their peers. Anything less would be a disservice to them.
Getting to know your students goes far deeper than learning their interests and what they did over the summer. Invest time in getting to know all of your students and their own personal circumstances. You will be transformed as an educator and as a person after walking a mile in your student’s shoes.
Tyler Harms is a special education teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has over 10 years of experience teaching at the elementary and secondary level. To follow Tyler or find out more tips for teachers check out www.teachforgodsglory.com