“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.Â 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.Â I had 45 students.Â Six were labeled gifted and talented, seven were labeled special ed., they were all given the label “child behavior problems“.Â 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.Â How did I do it?Â Well, first and foremost, I treated each child with respect, and at all times I remained consistent and fair.Â Â I established boundaries and enforced the rules.Â I instigated dialogue.Â I told the children my reasoning.Â 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.Â (No, it wasn’t easy.Â 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.Â I never forbid, but I did counsel.Â I explained choices (good and bad) and the resulting consequences (good and bad) and then left the child to choose.Â 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.Â 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.Â The Total Transformation Program sounds very much to me like my own philosophy and strategies.Â If you know and love a child “at risk” you might want to check it out.