It seems we pay less attention to the social qualities of our students once they enter middle school and high school because every teacher becomes responsible for teaching a SUBJECT and is no longer responsible for the growth of the STUDENT. When students reach middle school it is no longer anyone’s “job” to engage students and help prepare their social skills. Where do the students gain the cultural collateral necessary to navigate outside of the classroom if they are in classrooms that are more worried about delivering content than about the people in the room?
This is where the social class gap gets pronounced and equity gets overlooked. If we leave it up to the students to self motivate to get good grades or if we leave it up to the students to figure out how to communicate, lead and take action then too many will be left behind. It is much easier for a student born in privilege to succeed and have the confidence to take the necessary risks if that student is also part of a community outside the school.
I am focused on my students' independent and continued success after high school. I teach at Foshay Learning Center, a low-income school in South Los Angeles. We are a K-12 span school and more than 90% of my students will be first generation to attend college. My program also has a California Partnership Academy that mandates that the students travel in cohorts. In 10th -12th grade they must share a common career course as well as share at least two general studies courses like English, History and Science.
Foshay Learning Center had the vision when they started the high school in the 90’s to have every student participate in a career academy. The students get to choose between Health Careers, Finance, Technology (my program) and Engineering. It is as much about teaching students specific skills necessary in careers under these umbrella topics as it is about giving students a place to belong.
The attendance rate at my school and our graduation rate are some of the highest in LAUSD. Every student has a name and identity in the high school. A student can’t be ignored if they are with the same people for three years. A teacher can’t just wait out the year until a student is no longer in the class, because the student is back again the next year. I see the students with the bad attitude. I see the students who hide in the back and try to be ignored. In this respect I can work to find what inspires these disengaged students. This program really tries to leave No Child Left Behind.
I hear it time and again, “it is the parent's job to teach children to apply themselves, learn to talk, learn to be responsible, follow through.” But what if there are no parents to teach this? What if the parents work all the time? Don’t speak the language? Have personal issues? Should this bring the students down as well? How does it get better for these hard working students if there is no one outside of school to help make it better?
I am also tired of seeing my students get in their own way. My students are largely from a culture of modesty and keep their problems to themselves. They go it alone instead of applying hustle, confidence and networking skills. I watched as one student found out she did not own the correct software for a summer internship. She just looked crestfallen instead of asking the company if they could supply her with the program. I jumped in and made her ask the question. Her excitement was renewed when they said yes, but she would have given up if I was not there.
I have taken it on as my responsibility to teach them to network, to interview, and to write and update resumes. I expose them to careers and opportunities outside of what they know from their community. My school now helps seniors apply to college and write cover letters to universities to declare their interest. All of my students have digital portfolios to show off the work they have done in graphic design, web design, research and programming so that their work can speak volumes instead of letting others make assumptions about them based on their address.
In secondary grades there is often the expectations from teachers that students will enter their class with certain skills. The teachers set a bar for students to reach Instead of getting behind the student to build potential and confidence. If students enter the class with a stigma in their minds that “they are not good at math” or “reading is not their thing” then the odds are already stacked against the student when they enter the class..
It was fascinating last year to watch Valerie in 10th grade realize that she loved to program. She had no expectation going into the web design unit of our Exploring Computer Science class but in her words “something just clicked” and she caught on very quickly. Her confidence grew by leaps and bounds when she saw others struggle with something she was able to figure out on her own. I sent her around the room to offer advice. Everyone thought she was so good and it made her work harder - she started doing extra work beyond the standard. She started coding in her free time and seeking online courses to teach herself more.