Prompt: What are your strategies to reach “that kid”?
First, I gather all the information I can on my students. I have my advisory fill out forms about themselves. I look at the scant information the District sends us (all our kiddos* are recent immigrants, so, to be fair, the District doesn’t have a lot of information to send us). I observe them in class. Looping, or teaching many of the same kiddos 2 years in a row, is a huge help. Kiddos who I taught the year before help establish norms and smooth over rough patches (I distinctly remember a kiddo my first year of teaching tell another newer, more rebellious student “You need to do what he says!”).
I listen to what kiddos say and do in class. Even if they aren’t 100% into the math, they talk with friends. I hear about everything from hobbies and social media usage to relatively confidentialish stuff like immigration status. Sometimes this gives me an in to connect with them or gives me an insight into why they might not be participating as much or how I can better frame things to them. (Side note: I speak Spanish, so I can eavesdrop on about 2/3 of our kiddos. At least one student has reacted to this with some mortification: “%$!& I’d forgotten you speak Spanish!”)
If that doesn’t work, I ask other people at school. I work on a(n amazing) team of teachers who teach the same students, plus an advisory (also consisting of our kiddos). Generally, one of these teachers will have suggestions or insights and we’re lucky to have time built into our weekly team meetings to talk about this. Our (amazing) paraprofessionals are also a great resource as they see our kiddos in various settings at various times of day and they often connect with kiddos in ways that don’t include yelling at them to get seated and take out papers (granted, this isn’t the main way I intend to interact with kiddos, but generally the ones I don’t have great connections with are the ones who I end up yelling at, so). Our (amazing) Wellness Center staff is key here, too. On more than 1 occasion (twice), I’ve had meetings with the Wellness Coordinator where she has basically asked me what my goals are, then facilitated a meeting between a student and me to get us both where we want to go. (Side note: This was also a great way to show a new student that I anticipated struggles with that I was invested in his time and his learning. It helped a ton that our Wellness Coordinator is the person he trusts most at school).
Something that I don’t consider particularly special, but has proven to be helpful is calling home. More often than not, families want to know what’s happening and want to get involved. It’s both surprising (and sometimes heartbreaking) the number of times families will echo the concerns of our teaching team (because so many of our kiddos are recently immigrated and/or reunifying with their guardians for the first time in ages, this situation can be especially complicated). If the guardian doesn’t respond (or responds, but there’s no noticeable follow-up), that’s at least another data point for the puzzle. Side note: Teachers frequently express surprise at how ready I am to call home. I…don’t really have an answer here, other than to say that guardians tend to be the experts here. And if I had a child who was not doing well and their teacher didn’t call me, I’d be a bit peeved, too.
Sometimes, I’ll ask another student (always a trusted student, generally one of my advisees who (mostly) trusts me) what to do. Something along the lines of “I’m trying to get better at helping Gordon** with mathematics. But I’m not having any luck. He likes working with you. What do you suggest?” I’d approach this one with caution, since there’s a ton of status and feelings involved here. I’ll sometimes ask the student in question a similar question, though I need to be careful about framing (this tends to work better with kiddos I’ve taught for 2 years, but are going through a rough patch).
2 quick points: #1: This was one of the interview questions I had to answer for my current job. I didn’t remember at first (I was probably in a state of panic), but one of my interviewers reminded me of it after the fact.
#2: My mom made a comment to me over break that one of my cousin’s kiddos was in a class with lots of “bad kids”. This is a fascinating comment to me and we had a long talk afterwards about how, if adults can identify kids as “bad kids”, how must those students feel about themselves? Adults are really good at subliminally (or not subliminally) showing what they’re thinking and kiddos are really good at reading it. And if a kiddo doesn’t feel like they’re accepted or have status in the class, why should they make an effort to belong in a system that has already, pretty clearly, showed them where they think they belong? So I guess my point, and I’m seeing it a bit this year with kiddos that I struggle to connect to, is that kiddos can be really sensitive to being “that kid”, no matter how much they try not to show it.
*Our principal says “kiddo”, so I say “kiddo”. Force of habit.
**not their actual name. Or an actual kiddo that I have in mind, really.