I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and anyone else who was within earshot of me why weren’t my academically at-risk students more successful. I was doing everything I could except stand on my head and yet some of my student’s still weren’t getting it. I’ve got professional development coming out of my ears. I’ve tried to keep my student-centered teaching practice fresh and up to date by including things such as problem based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment for, of and as learning , computers and other digital technology, student created rubrics etc., etc., etc. What is preventing students from doing their best?
The conventional wisdom is that students’ lack of engagement or distractability in class is due to such things as poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, too much time spent on the WWW, etc. Students seem to be “brain-dead” and need teaching strategies that are like IV systems that would give students the information they need because they can’t to do it themselves (Parker, 1993 ). Spoon feeding is the metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the problem. But, Parker (1993) argues conventional wisdom is mistaken.
Parker notes poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, etc. are not the most significant causes for students lack of engagement or distraction in class. Student fear is responsible for student underachievement. Students believe their lives have no meaning, the future has little to offer, and that adults don’t really care about their problems. Young people ” have been thoroughly marginalized by the elders of this society, and their deepest response is not an angry rejection of us but a fearful internalization of our rejection of them”(Parker, p.11). This fear causes students to hide behind masks of silence and indifference. Parker suggests educators aren’t even aware that students have this fear. Educators can’t recognize the fear in students because they don’t recognize the fear in themselves. This fear is the fear of rejection by students. Parker admits he doesn’t know any techniques to overcome the fear of rejection, but he says whenever he sees past his students silence and fear and tries to understand the inner lives of his students, his students learn more.
I have to agree with Parker when he says when we try to know and understand the inner lives of students, students learn more. In order to get to know the inner lives of students, we need to build authentic relationships with students. The bonds of trust that develop between teachers and students within a positive relationship leads to a more positive classroom climate and more student success. It’s been my experience that when students feel more accepted for who they are by their teachers, the fear of rejection no longer exists to thwart student success.
The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
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