|Flickr Image Credit: Scintt|
It's taken years for me to get used to the reactions I get from people after I tell them what I do for a living. Jaws drop, eyes get big, and shock registers. Some bless my heart and nominate me for sainthood. Others ask very direct questions, like: "Don't you fear for your life?" Here is what I tell them: I am not a saint. I try my best to help kids graduate and I care about them; but I am no miracle worker. They earn their diplomas through their own hard work. My job is to believe in them and to remind them that they are extremely capable of being successful. I do not fear for my life. My students are just kids. Many of them have suffered greatly due to a variety of life situations, and that suffering often creates a tough exterior, a hard shell of protection from hurt. But underneath that shell, they are all soft-hearted kids. They are the ones who should be seen as miracle workers! Many of them are survivors, who somehow manage to not only overcome the obstacles they've faced in their young lives, but also to thrive.
|Flickr Image Credit:TimsStrategy|
I have three children between the ages of 7-11. Here's a common scenario in my house: a loud crash, a burst of tears, footsteps pounding up the stairs, a shrieking cry, "MOOOMMMMMMY!!!! A just pushed B and now she's crying!" I separate the brawlers and try to figure out what happened by asking questions. Almost every answer to my questions includes these words: "Yeah, but..." My kids see a chain of cause and effect that always leads to the notion that someone else is to blame for their actions. "Yeah but if she hadn't grabbed the toy out of my hand, I wouldn't have hit her!" That is an example of external locus of control--it's not my fault I hit her...it's hers!
Similar things happen in my classroom. My new students often come on the first day of school with huge burdens weighing them down--a history of pain, suffering, and failure. (No one comes to my alternative program because they have a history of success in a traditional high school setting--they are all there for a second chance.) Almost all of them start out by saying some variation of, "I can't": I can't do math because I failed it; I can't come to school every day because I have to help raise my younger siblings; I can't graduate because no one else in my family has ever done it.
They have some heart-rending stories about why they can't do things...but rarely do they see anything in their lives as the result of their own choices. They do not have that internal locus of control. "My mom says I have to;" "My friends will give me a hard time;""Yeah, but..." Rarely do they feel they have the power to make their own choices.
I get nervous on the first day of school because I worry about how effective I will be at helping students students learn this powerful lesson: YOU HAVE A CHOICE. I worry about how many will choose to take responsibility for themselves and how many will blame me, their parents, or others for the things that happen in their lives. I wonder how many will end up strong enough to deal with both the positive and negative consequences of their own choices. (And I worry about how many negative consequences I will have to mete out before the choices-lead-to-consequences lesson is learned.) I get excited on the first day of school because when kids learn that they have the power to choose success, it is an amazing thing to watch! Some of my students start out as young, immature kids; but they leave as responsible young adults whom I admire greatly. I often start out the year feeling like a parent/disciplinarian and end it feeling like I have a new group of close friends. It is extremely exciting to watch kids transform!
To spur on this transformation, on the first day of school I like to let my students know: "You have a clean slate here. Starting today, it doesn't matter what classes you failed or how much trouble you've been in. Maybe you've suffered through a lot of pain because of what other people have done to you. Maybe you don't think you have what it takes to graduate. Well, starting today, you have a choice. You can keep worrying about your past, or you can start planning your future. You can let other people hold you back, or you can choose to break free. It doesn't matter to me who your parents are, why you are here, or what you've done in the past. Right now you are here, and if you choose to try to graduate I am going to help you in any way I can. You can do it if you make the choice to do so." Sometimes I play them this song by India Arie, "I Choose." It is a powerful message about everyone's internal locus of control. A reminder that I have the power to CHOOSE to be the best that I can be...
Resilience, the power of choice, and internal locus of control: that's what's on my lesson plan schedule for the school year. Let's hope they are lessons well-taught and well-learned...