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The “At-Risk” Child

“At-Risk” is a designation given to children who the school system deems have a low chance of academic success. Sometimes this is a socioeconomic label, sometimes it is an ethnic label, sometimes it is a behavior management label.  That particular label has played a huge role in my life as a teacher.

My very first 5th grade classroom was comprised of kids none of the other teachers wanted in their room.  I had 45 students.  Six were labeled gifted and talented, seven were labeled special ed., they were all given the label “child behavior problems“.  In fact, they were known in the teacher’s lounge as “the class from hell,” and without any doubt they were all considered “at risk.”

By the end of the year my students were excelling in school and I had one of the best behaved classes on campus.  How did I do it?  Well, first and foremost, I treated each child with respect, and at all times I remained consistent and fair.   I established boundaries and enforced the rules.  I instigated dialogue.  I told the children my reasoning.  I listened to theirs even when I disagreed with it.

Quite often the angry, disobedient child doesn’t know any other way to be heard or get his/her needs met. I set out to discover each child’s need and find a way to meet it.  (No, it wasn’t easy.  Yes, I spent many nights crying myself to sleep.)

When confronted with an angry child, rather then becoming angry myself or trying to shout him/her down, I listened and asked questions.  I never forbid, but I did counsel.  I explained choices (good and bad) and the resulting consequences (good and bad) and then left the child to choose.  I did not do any decision making for anyone but myself.

Slowly, the kids learned they could trust that I said what I meant and meant what I said. They also learned they could trust themselves to make good choices — and they could even figure out what those choices were. Basically, I had to teach these kids to stop and think.  It wasn’t something that developed naturally from the predictable consequences of their life, because the only consistent environmental consequence they had ever known was violence.

In case you are wondering why I am telling you all this, it has to do with that link up there in my post.  The Total Transformation Program sounds very much to me like my own philosophy and strategies.  If you know and love a child “at risk” you might want to check it out.


  1. 45 well-behaved B-students would be too much for me LOL.

    If I could only have known 20 years ago about the kids I’d have, I would have chosen an education major for a headstart. My first child is gifted & talented with ADD, and the other two have autism — it’s a full-time job keeping up with all their needs. But what you described is exactly what we do at home — clear boundaries where they know the consequences of crossing them, and open communication — and the kids are doing well. Mostly. LOL

    And yeah, on the crying to sleep!

    I’m going to head on over and take a look at the link. Thanks!
    .-= Susan at Stony River´s last blog ..Friday Flash 55, at cross purposes =-.

    1. Susan — this program certainly will not do any harm to your kids and it may give you some new coping strategies, I don’t think it was designed for the autistic child and may not work as well since they respond very differently (each one of them) to boundaries.

  2. when i read the third paragraph i thought
    isnt that the way all children are treated?

    years ago i had a friend who told me
    that being fair and reasonable to kids was wrong
    letting them have their voice was wrong
    and treating them with respect was wrong

    he told me my kids would grow up badly
    they would get into trouble
    with drugs and the law
    they would never graduate high school

    well each one of them proved him wrong

    and they are fair and reasonable people
    and they have not lost their voices
    and they are respected and respectful
    and each one graduated
    no trouble from anyone

    my kids are living proof of your philosophy

    i love them
    and it all started there
    .-= tilden´s last blog ..Silly Haiku Wednesday – Changes =-.

    1. Nancy — crushing a child causes rebellion. Keeping children from making choices and preventing them from making decisions only pushes them to make angry and resentful choices and decisions. Much better to let them think and rebel inside set boundaries than to teach them to ignore you and rebel outside your and societies norms. You made the right choices with your kids and they’ve proven it by growing up loving, friendly and law-abiding.

    1. Polona — well, if I can’t reach them one way, I’ll try another. I have an appointment to meet with the Children and Youth Director at the church on Wednesday.

  3. My own 5th grade class was the class from hell. This was nearly 35 years ago and there were several kids in there who should never have been in a mainstream classroom… at least, not in their non-medicated state. When one very large (bigger than the teacher) boy got upset, he would throw desks. I am honestly surprised that none of us were ever hurt.
    Sometimes I wonder what became of that particular student.
    I do know the teacher became a labor union big-wig.
    .-= kcinnova´s last blog ..Monday Madness =-.

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