Teachers Believing in Their Students

Believing in Students: The Power to Make a Difference

Following a morning of training for the Discipline with Dignity programme, the principal of the high school and I made our way to the cafeteria for lunch. He stated something to the effect of, “I adore your session, but it’s not realistic.” I responded by stating that, in my opinion, it was feasible because it was effective; but, it was not simple.

He asked while pointing to a young woman who was seated by herself at a table, “Do you think it would work with her?” She gave off the impression of being a cast member from the Mad Max film series. She had just been let out of the federal prison where she had been serving time. Her appearance was striking (although perhaps not as striking as it would be now) with spiked orange and purple hair, tattoos, all-black makeup (including black lipstick and black rouge), and severe body piercings. Her hair was styled in a spiky fashion. The headmaster gave me a questioning look and then asked, “So what would you do?” I replied with the question, “What about you? How do you treat her?” He warned her that he would set a boundary and that she had better not cross it under any circumstances. “What if she responds, ‘I’ll murder you?'” was my response. Who do you think is going to be more terrified, her because she crossed the line that you drew, or you because she threatened to kill you?” If she has served time in a correctional facility, then she will not be frightened by anything that can happen in a classroom setting. Detention? Do you plan on calling her mother?

Then he inquired once again about my plans moving forward. I said, “Talk to her.” And he extended an invitation for me to visit him and try it there and then. So I did. I sat down at her table wearing my three-piece suit and introduced myself. After glancing at me for a moment, she finally questioned, “Who the f**k are you, old man?” I was a little taken aback, and as a result, I did not have the opportunity to read a book or review my notes. As a result, I relied on two tactics that I had just taught the teachers in the morning session: catering to the actual requirements of the children and employing a challenging approach rather than a coercive one.

I told him, “Listen, I’m someone who’s writing a book on teenage violence, and I think you know more about it than I do.” If you have the guts to tell the truth and answer one question (a challenge), I’ll write down (need to note) your name in my book. She inquired as to what the question was, and I responded, “Are there any instructors to whom you pay attention, obey directions, demonstrate respect, and gain knowledge?” I asked her what made that instructor stand out from the others and she replied she had one much like that when she was growing up.

Her response is one that I have never forgotten, and it has been one of the things that has been consistent in my work ever since she gave it to me. It’s like a scene from a movie that keeps playing over and over in my head. Her response immediately turned her from a strong and hardened criminal into a terrified little kid right in front of my eyes.

Because of her lack of intelligence. She believes that I will one day be able to get a job, that I may even be able to go to college, and that I will be an excellent mother since I am aware of all the things that I should not do.
Then she immediately began to cry. She looked like a zebra with black drops dropping on her white top as a result of the tears streaking down her black make-up and making her look like a zebra.

I won’t be attending college, and I won’t be looking for work either. I’ll never have children of my own. I’m a dead girl. When they write your name on the wall in prison, it means you are about to die, and my name is on the wall. I am certain that I will go back. However, that instructor thinks highly of me, and man, it makes a huge, huge difference.
After some time, I included her name, Roxanne, in my book, and I looked for her to give her a copy of it. However, nobody knew where she was or how to locate her, and I eventually gave up.

After some time had passed, I embarked on a tour throughout the country conducting trainings. I approached the officials of the school and requested permission to speak with perhaps ten of their most difficult students. I accomplished this for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in urban, rural, and all economic zones. I did it on two different reservations in Indian country. I inquired, “Who is your favourite instructor, and why is that person your favourite?” I was anticipating the majority of respondents to state that they did not have a single standout educator. However, each one of them did. One of the primary explanations given was, “They believe in me.”

There Are Five Ways to Make Contact
Simply telling them that you have faith in them is not enough to demonstrate that belief. These words only have weight if they are true and if you are able to demonstrate that they are true via your actions. There is no way to fake it since children are equipped with “built in crap detectors” (a phrase borrowed from Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s book Teaching as a Subversive Activity), and they are able to discern if you are not sincere in what you are saying. The following are a few different ways to say it.

1. Do not give out any further rewards.
If you have faith in a student, you won’t need to bribe them with rewards. They will understand from the reward that the only way to coerce them into doing something is to offer them financial compensation. That is the antithesis of believing something.

2. Placing a Greater Emphasis on Effort Than Achievement
A curriculum that is overly focused on testing can never reasonably expect every child to achieve its goals. Every child has the ability to give it their all and attempt their best. Ironically, the more children are pushed to their limits and urged to achieve their best, the better they perform on our insanely high-stakes exams.

3. Don’t be afraid to give someone a second, third, or fourth chance.
“Three strikes and you’re out” is a phrase that appears in the laws of numerous states. The majority of schools only allow for one strike for even the most disruptive students. This is the message: “Be the way we want you to be, or we won’t want you.” Every child should go to school, and it’s important to remember that making errors is a natural part of the educational process—not just in terms of academics, but also in terms of behaviour. Instead than excluding them because of their limitations, teach them the tools they need to overcome their shortcomings.

4. Instead of saying “you failed,” say “you haven’t done it yet.” This is more accurate.
Give your kids reason to have optimism by telling them that they can always perform better, regardless of what they do. In a setting like a school, one’s own personal safety should, without a doubt, come first. Sometimes, safety considerations take precedence over principles 3 and 4, but it does not happen as frequently as we believe it does.

5. Create more opportunities for educational pursuits
The children who may benefit from recess the most are the first to have it taken away from them. Students will only become less equipped to deal with challenges in the future if they are denied access to learning chances such as field excursions, the cafeteria, the library, and any and all other educational opportunities. Nobody would ever tell a basketball player, “You missed too many free throws,” because that would be unthinkable. You can’t practise until you get better.” It is time to cease granting additional opportunities to people who have already demonstrated their capacity for success, while at the same time denying possibilities to others who have the greatest requirement for them.

Who knows how many people’s lives could be altered if we were to begin reaching out to children like Roxanne sooner rather than later.