Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
– Matthew 19:14 NIV
I learned this week that our building has something really cool happening this school year. A local shoe company was donating shoes for students in our building. Not just students who had a financial need, but for all of the students in our building! What a blessing and a gift that is for our community! As I thought about this, I realized that this time of year can be tough for many families as they struggle to purchase new clothes and shoes for their own kids. It was a great reminder for me that I need to put myself in my student’s shoes as I think about how I structure my day and what additional resources I can provide my student’s to be successful.
Getting to Know Your Student’s Reality
I first taught in a school where there was a vast difference in the students’ socioeconomic statuses. Some students who worked on farms and ranches and other students who lived in million-dollar homes are all going to the same middle school. Some of these students qualified for reduced lunch, and others had family members who were prominent businessmen and women in the community. Many of our students were living below the poverty line and in some cases were homeless, living in hotels and sometimes cars.
Many students have to overcome any obstacles just to get to school every day, and knowing this as a teacher will help better prepare you for one of the students who comes to see you in the morning. I always thought that students have the same routine as me in the morning, period. I would get up, take a shower, eat some breakfast, brush my teeth, and head out to work. Many of these students don’t even have food or water turned on at home because they can’t afford to pay the bills. When I started to have knowledge of these situations and an awareness of the issues these students were facing on a daily basis, I became more prepared as an educator and more mindful of all of the students in my classroom.
How to be Better Serve Learners from All Walks of Life
Take a few minutes and get to know where your students are coming from to get a better idea of what their needs are. You could also talk to the school counselor or previous year’s teacher to get some advice on what was helpful in the past. Here are some other tips for helping students and families in need:
- Stay Positive– Greet them everyday with a smile and a handshake. Find something genuinely positive to build them up each day. Celebrate their gifts and talents.
- Focus on What You Can Control– As much as we would like to take these children home, we can only have them in our care during the day. 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 these students are being abused in some way, you are a mandated reporter. Seek assistance from your administrators to help notify the authorities. Also, ensure that these 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 for them for any of their needs. You can help get them in touch with other resources.
- Know their Needs– When talking with parents, get to know them, 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- These 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 is far deeper than their interests and what they did over the summer. Invest time in getting to know all of your students and their own personal situations. You never know what someone else is going through. You will be transformed as an educator and a person after walking a mile in your student’s shoes.