George Lucas Educational Foundation

At risk students

At risk students

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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I am just curious about the question of how do you affect a student who doesn't care. As far as I know we really can't make them do anything unless they want to. I have seen students who did not respond to punishment, detention, reward, nothing. What do you do with these students?

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Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert - Gawron
Middle school teacher by day, educational author/blogger by night

Hey Wayne!
I would push back a little and say that the student does care, but just not necessarily about what's being taught. That's the challenge of the teacher, right? Make the lesson applicable to that student. I could be flip and quote Bill Ferriter here who says that it's not the kid who is bored, it's us who is boring, or something like that, but I know there can be more to it than that.

You're right. You can't MAKE a kid do something, but I would focus, not on punishment or reward, but on making it real world and applicable. Give them choice. That's not a reward; that's a hook into a topic.

For those few who still are struggling to give you and your classroom the time of day, just know that they will have many teachers throughout their career. You are just one. Perhaps someone else will reach them down the line. Just get back on that wagon everyday and try. It's our job to continue trying. Kill with kindness. It's no BS. It works.

And in the end, ensure that they are not getting in the way of other students' learning. The issues beyond school (home, family, drugs, etc...) are beyond our control, but we can make sure that they don't corrupt your environment after you've done everything you can do.

Just make sure you have.

Thanks for commenting!

Ms. Leigh Ragsdale's picture
Ms. Leigh Ragsdale
Love Learning, Progressive in My Practice, Innovation, Empowering Students, Explore Your Passions

I teach at risk students. I have found the best way to motivate them is to invest in them. Find out what they enjoy doing. Most likely it will not be school related, but as the teacher you can use that information to help inspire them. Just a little suggestion that might help with that struggling student!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Wane! I'd agree with what others have said- find a way to help the kids learn to trust you. Kids don't engage when they don't feel safe. Learning is risky and many kids have had very negative experiences with learning and school, so they're not willing to take the risk again (sort of an "I won't touch a hot stove again" scenario). Build trust and connection before you ask them to engage.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

Hey there Wayne, I'd agree with Leigh and Heather that what the student cares about might not have anything to do with what you're teaching. As an adult in his/her life, you still have a responsibility and an opportunity to help that student move toward his/her own goals. So, as Laura said, first step is building trust and connection. If you can achieve that, next step is to talk about what that student wants and needs out of life.

It's also good to identify what other folks in the student's life want and need from the student - so, if the student says "I don't want to graduate, but it's my mom's greatest dream to see me in a cap and gown" - you can help the student refocus on school from the perspective of helping that student negotiate relationships with those in his/her life.

You posted this question about a year ago - how have things been going since then?

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