Why Do Students Come to School?

"When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career.
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be." -- John Lennon, Working Class Hero

Did you like high school?

I hated high school.

Oh, I knew I had to get through it, that the way out, intellectually and geographically, was to do well, and that meant grades and extracurricular activities, so I did it.

But I hated it. And I realize now that I had it easy -- students at my old high school who wanted to go to college, pretty much found their way there; students who wanted to go straight into the work force usually found jobs.

My students, not so much. Few of my students see college as a real option, there aren't many jobs here on the reservation, and it's hard to get a job twenty or thirty miles away when you can't afford a car.

I thought a lot about that this week, as my classes filled up and I saw students looking at me questioningly. They weren't wondering whether we'd have well-constructed lessons or manage to cover the standards during term -- both because they realize I do know the content, and because they don't much care about it.

They're looking at me wondering if I have anything useful to teach them.

Am I going to give them something of value, in exchange for which they're willing to work and participate and think? Or is my class just another hour to sit through in exchange for two hot meals and hanging with their friends?

And are my truths going to have anything to do with their questions? Am I willing to stop and show a couple of students how to tie a tie, because they're going to a wedding this weekend? Yes. Do I think it's fair that we've eliminated restroom passes? Yes. Do I like that the library has been turned over to some social welfare program? Eh.

Since opening with How to Create a Winning Electoral College Strategy is not the smart play, I started with Chris Rock's How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police, which actually led to a great discussion of how best to exercise your constitutional rights when being questioned by the authorities. The kids went away understanding that politeness pays, even when you're constitutionally correct, and that I might have some small inkling of where they're coming from.

Relationship, relevance and rigor is what is preached at classroom teachers, and those three things are interconnected in a causal change. Build a relationship, and they'll listen to why you think the subject is relevant to their current or future lives, and then they'll do the work required by rigorous study.

If you work in a school, I'd love to hear why your kids come to school.

I think mine come for the friend and the meals, but with the hope that they'll find more. At my school, where we're starting the third year of a formal transformation project, we're starting to provide the more. I hope it's enough.