Don’t the first few weeks of school always seem to fly by? It usually takes you a week or so to get back into the routine of waking up early—but before you know it, you’re up before the alarm even goes off. Depending on the size of your class or classes, you are getting to know your students and you probably know most of their names.
And while I know you try to connect with every student every day, I believe there are three students that you must reach right away. Let me explain why.
The New Kid in Town
At some point in our lives, each one of has been the new kid. Maybe you had to change schools when you were a child. Maybe you’ve changed schools recently. Or maybe you’ve recently switched grade levels or departments.
The thing is, we’ve all been there and it’s tough. You don’t know anybody or if you do, you’ve never worked with them before. Oftentimes, you feel as if you must re-establish yourself all over again. And it’s nerve wracking. You just want to fit in or at the very least, not stand out.
Imagine how new students feel. They know or believe that all eyes are on them. And while we try to reassure them that that’s not the case, we know that it is. Kids size each other up just like adults. The major difference is that adults usually have the benefit of being a bit more secure. They have gone through puberty and their brains are fully developed. Actually, I wonder about mine at times, but …
So, even though the new kid in your class seems to be fitting in with everyone, make the extra effort to check in with them. As we all know, it’s one thing to put on a mask and act as if everything is okay. It’s quite another to be okay.
Maybe eat lunch with them and a few other students. Getting to know everybody all at once can be overwhelming. I mean when was the last time you remembered the names of the 24 people you just met? This will give them the opportunity to get to know some of their peers without having to do so in front of a big crowd.
Or, call home and talk to their parent or guardian. Ask them how their child seems to be adjusting. Maybe they can give you some insight into what their child is feeling. Or maybe they’ll tell you that everything is fine. In that case, keep doing what you are doing. But keep an eye out. It’s never easy being the new kid.
The Kid That Flies Under the Radar
How many of us have felt invisible before? Like, if we didn’t go to work the next day nobody would even care or notice. Now, whether our feelings are justified is irrelevant. The fact that we feel that way can be brutal.
Now imagine being a kid that feels that way. A kid that does all the right things. They stay out of trouble. They get decent grades and they always come prepared. We all know that it’s often the students that require the most attention that get the most attention. Especially the first few weeks of school. You want your class to be orderly and conducive to learning. So, it’s the students that threaten that order that often receive the bulk of our attention. Which means who doesn’t get any attention?
The quiet kid.
The compliant kid.
The kid doing everything they are supposed to.
And because they remain quiet and calm and compliant, we often assume that everything is okay. We forget how difficult it is to follow every direction, rule and procedure. When was the last time you did? I can’t remember the last time I did. But I know it’s harder than it appears, and we need to recognize students that are putting forth this effort. They deserve our praise for working hard and helping make the class a better place.
We must remember that they may not stay this way for long. When they notice that aren’t being noticed. When you barely recognize that they’re there. Or when they get tired of always doing the right thing. They will. We all do! Doing the right all the time is exhausting and impossible. Let’s be real.
So, try to see who you are not seeing. Who have you not had to speak to? Speak to them. Who has not raised their hand? Call on them. Not to embarrass or call-out, but to recognize. Smack dab in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is belonging. It’s that important.
Believe me, I have been guilty of this my entire career. I often gave the most attention to the kids or adults that I felt needed it the most. And while I am sure my attention wasn’t wasted, I am certain that I could have divided it much better.
The Kid Whose Summer Wasn’t
Summer is my favorite season. And yes, it is because of the time that I get to spend with my family and traveling and relaxing by the pool. No, I didn’t get into education to have my summers off. And in my current role as a vice principal, I am an 11-month employee. So, I do work part of the summer. But having that month and the luxury of getting to, within reason, do whatever I want is wonderful.
And yet I know that, for some of our students, summer is a time they hope flies by quickly. They don’t get to go to the beach or travel the country or even simply relax in a cool air-conditioned room. No, summer sucks for many of our kids and we must remember that—especially those first few weeks of school.
Many students will be wearing their new outfits. They’ll be talking about their trip here and their weekend there. All the while, those kids that didn’t have a summer will be listening and feeling bad about their summer. They will think back to their summer and remember the hot days with no air conditioning, the nights where they didn’t get dinner or maybe even the fact that they didn’t get to simply just relax. Surrounded by noise, smoke and chaos for most of the summer—these students are looking forward to the comfort of your classroom.
Furthermore, please don’t think this all about social economics. There are students who live in luxury and have everything they could ever want, well almost everything, that still didn’t enjoy their summer. Maybe they were shipped off to camp after camp and never got to spend time with their family. Their parents meant well, but all their kids wanted was to spend some quality time with them and not 75 strangers at the local Y.
Whatever the situation, watch these students carefully. They will not return from their break as happy and as well rested as your other students. It may take them longer to adjust to your routines and they are not going to be as excited about Family Meetings in which students get to share what they did over the summer. Most likely they were ready for it to be over after the first week.
What do you do?
Give them options? Maybe ask them what they are most looking forward to this year. Or, have them talk about a kind thing they did for someone else. Oftentimes, these are the students that are caring for siblings, parents, grandparents and themselves. Give them a chance to shine by talking to them ahead of time.
Give them time to reset. School might be the only place that they are able to achieve any sense of calm. They will be ready soon—just not right away.
Give them personal attention. They didn’t receive any this summer and they felt like a number or a t-shirt. The kind that every camper had to wear, every day. All they want is a little attention. To be seen and to be noticed. You can give them that.
You’ll Find Them
Maybe you’re wondering how you will be able to pinpoint the three students above. Some of you may teach upwards of 200 students a semester. I mean how is it possible to know everything about every student. It’s not. But this is at least a start. And I believe if enough of us are on the lookout for them we can make a difference. In fact, I’m sure we can.
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