I am in a an excellent school, with great students, wonderful peers and a very supportive Administration. However, even in the best schools there will always be students who have difficulty handling the academic and behavioral discipline of a school environment. The school, to their credit, has tried various measures to encourage these potential dropouts to finish school and earn a high school diploma. One way is to create a class environment that separates them from the rest of the student body and give them classes that earn them credits needed to graduate high school. These classes are for seniors or super seniors who failed in the regular school session. These "last chance" classes for these struggling students and for the most part, the students do understand and appreciate this final chance to graduate with the rest of the school. Unfortunately, these classes have been only partially successful as many of these students fail to live up to the academic and/or behavioral discipline that is necessary for graduation.
I have one of these classes and in a roster of 34, I have between 12 to 15 who show up on a regular basis. For the most part, these students are seniors or super seniors who want to get the credits they need to graduate. However, unlike my other classes, these students suffer from terrible work habits developed over their last 4 to 6 years of secondary school and maybe back to elementary school. Moreover, since many of them are 18 or older, they have part time jobs or children care duties that interfere with their school attendance. Many of them lack self-esteem and believe nobody cares about them. The question is how do you get the students to buy into education when the reason they are in the class in the first place is their lack of enthusiasm for education?
There are no real answers to that education question, except to show them that you really do care about their future. I have found that I am able to reach them by showing that I care about their well-being and listen to their problems. They respond in kind by trying to do the right thing such as behaving and doing work. However, a caring teacher is only half the battle for these students to succeed academically. The second part is much more difficult and that is to change their terrible work habits that has been their problem for many years. A common theme for these students is to do as little work as possible and hope the teacher gives them a 65%. Unfortunately, many teachers did not pass these students and give up on them during the previous years and in turn, the students gave up on themselves.
At first, I tried to teach my senior class like the rest of my classes and realized that the students were not willing or capable of working like my other classes. They needed to be given more worksheets and work together in solving problems. While some teachers may see this, giving out worksheets, is a lazy way to teach, I have found that for this group of students, that giving them worksheets, along with good instruction and making sure the worksheets are rigorous and relevant allowed the students to work in teams and to complete their tasks. Moreover, I found that giving them a test that allows hem to work together achieved much greater results academically then having them take the test individually. While I admit their are some drawbacks to this "cooperative testing" approach but at this stage it seems to working. The students appear more confident academically and their behavioral issues are less.
While my approach is a "work in progress". I believe it is working and the students have better work habits, are showing academic improvement and with few behavioral issues. Most importantly, attendance is stabilizing and it is good to see the students showing up most every day and willing to work. I can only hope these little steps by my students academically results in a big step for them, that is graduating in the school.