Choosing to Engage

I have Franco* in a course I’m teaching for the first time this year, Foundations of Physics. FoP was designed to help students who really struggle with math and reading, identified by test scores, to earn their required Minnesota physics or chemistry credit. It’s a below grade level class filled with students who largely have been unsuccessful in school in the past, and is certainly has an overrepresentation of students of color**. Franco has to some extent been a thorn in my side. He’s boisterous, distracts other students, and won’t stay in one place. He’s also demonstrated that he’s very bright, and he has a great sense of humor.

Earlier in the year I mentioned that we were going to perform a lab over again, and Tahvo* stood up and said “Another one!” Franco was among the students laughing; clearly this was a thing. I ignored it and moved on. A few days later it happened again, then again a few days after that. Finally I asked about it. “Just Google ‘DJ Kahled'” they told me, snickering. Turns out it’s a short clip that’s fairly mild (I expected way worse) that has become a meme. So here’s the thing; I could have assumed they were laughing at me. I could have reacted. By engaging in conversation instead, we’ve now gotten to the point where ‘another one’ is a class meme. It’s helped build culture in my classroom.

Another time Franco put an ear bud in my ear; it was NWA, which I recognized (I grew up listening to NWA, Easy-E, and Dre, coming back now with Straight Outta Compton). I’m not immersed in hip-hop culture now, but I can certainly have a conversation with kids and show a bit of interest. When they put in their earbuds, I can engage with them rather than react against them.

Today after class Franco was one of the last ones out the door so I stopped him.

“Hey, what’s your plans after school?”

“I don’t know…I gotta figure that out I guess.”

“Yeah, well, you got a lot of potential. You could do something really great. You just gotta figure out what that thing is.”

“Dang, you don’t hear that from many people.”

You don’t hear that from many people. Meaning, most people have written Franco off and he knows it. He’s been unsuccessful for undoubtably a variety of reasons. But he’s still a kid, and he still deserves to be believed in. I can engage in his positives, rather than react to the negatives. I can choose to engage.


*None of the student names in this story are their real names. 

**I’m happy that our school district is working hard to correct this, both by ending below-grade level courses except for those required for students to graduate off their IEP (including this being the last year of FoP), and by implementing an Excellence in Equity team to find solutions for our students we have traditionally failed to help. 

Advertisements

4 responses to “Choosing to Engage

  1. Awww, this makes me happy!

  2. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist

    Love this! I will often make the mistake of assuming students are making fun of me but I like this example of something to do to show that I’m willing to engage. Great job!

    My question: Do you have to work at all to bridge the potential gap between making connections with students with things like these examples (cultural things, essentially) and connections with the material you want them to engage in? #NaBloCoMo #5

    • Yeah, so the connections happen basically in the times the kids are either off task or it’s right before or after class. It’s actually a great way to get them back on task; 30 seconds of engaging in whatever they’re off task about, then pointing at the problem at hand and saying “now back to this.” Easier and more effective than a constant battle (ok, that simplifies things….it’s still a constant battle. But at least it’s one we benefit from somehow, rather than a power struggle).

  3. I wish I’d understood this idea as a new teacher: “I could have assumed they were laughing at me. I could have reacted. By engaging in conversation instead, we’ve now gotten to the point where ‘another one’ is a class meme. It’s helped build culture in my classroom.” It’s so much more natural than a lot of classroom management strategies, because it’s not a management or power struggle, as you pointed out.

    #NaBloCoMo #3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s