March 6, 2020
Guest post by Aimee Paulson
Once upon a time, there was a middle school student who had given up on school. He sat in the back of the classroom, lonely and bored. He suffered from stomach aches and asked to go home almost every day. When his teachers asked the class to complete an activity, he would be the last to join a group, sit to the side, and doodle on a paper. At the end of the quarter, he received an “F” in all of his classes. But this young man told himself it wasn’t a big deal because he hadn’t tried anyway.
Have you seen this story play out before? Unfortunately, classrooms around the country have students like this. Students who have failed so many times that they stop doing the work. Because, WHEN they fail, it is because they CHOSE not to try. They have protected themselves from feeling stupid and regained control by giving up.
The good news is that a dedicated mentor, teacher, or advisor can change the trajectory of this unhappy tale. What can you do?
Spend some time getting to know the student’s interests.
Use interest inventories, getting-to-know-you games, or artistic projects to find areas that spark some interest. For our young man in the opening story, it was making movies and hockey. Once you find topics that bring a little enthusiasm, work the topics into examples, questions, and projects.
Find out what makes your student smart.
Students who have repeatedly failed often feel there is nothing they can do well. Talk about the different ways people can be smart: music, nature, art, words, understanding people, numbers, etc. Find a learning style or brain smart survey and take it together. Identify the strengths and how those strengths apply in the real world.
Set 1 or 2 big future goals.
Your student may want to become a basketball player, or work as a movie director, or running an animal shelter; talk through how to get there. Work backward until graduating from school is identified as a necessity.
Discuss what you need to do to graduate.
It starts with passing classes. Help your student think about what has to happen to pass a class. Make a list together. It might include: showing up every day, turning in assignments, knowing what the assignments are, passing tests, participating in class.
Pick one element from the list to address.
These are the baby steps to help your student get started. Pick ONLY 1 for the first week or two. If the goal is to turn in assignments, talk through what goes into making that happen. Make a plan to put assignments in a special place and how he or she will remind himself or herself to turn it in. Model turning in assignments. Make sure the student knows where the assignments go. Decide on what success looks like – is it 3 out of 5 days or 4 out of 5 days? Ask the student how he or she would like to be rewarded, such as a small prize or fun break.
Check in often and praise small successes.
Praise the effort of writing down an assignment. Be proud of your student for remembering to turn it in. Let your student know that you saw him or her putting the assignment in the correct place.
Set a new goal once consistent success is reached!
Working with apathetic students is not easy. It takes consistency and patience to teach these students that they are worthy of success.
Remember, a student who appears to have given up is usually desperate to participate. These students need help scaling the wall they have built to protect themselves.
This guest post was written by Aimee Paulson from Minnesota while taking an online continuing education course, Engaging Students of Poverty: Practical Strategies That Raise Achievement, with THI Instructor Brenda McKinney.