By the end of September my frustration with one of my students had risen to the point that I no longer knew what to do or how to get through to her. I tried turning a blind eye to her distracting behaviours. I avoided arguing with her when she refused to do her work or hand in assignments and I stopped calling home because I never got a call back. From the minute this student arrived at school she looked distracted – even sad – and it became quickly evident that learning or succeeding academically were not priorities. I discussed my concerns about this student with colleagues and sought suggestions as to what I should do. I contacted community agencies, modified my lessons to better suit her needs and interests and tried to help her make friends in class.
By the end of October it became clear that nothing was working and I still had not identified the underlying problem for this student, who showed true potential but did not seem to care about anything – especially school. It was one day at lunch when she saw me running laps around the schoolyard that everything changed. She asked me what I was doing. When I explained to her that I love to exercise at lunch, I asked her to join me. To my surprise, she was quick to take my side. We did not talk about school. I did not ask her how she was feeling. I did not scorn her for not having done her homework. Instead, when the bell rang, I thanked her for joining me, told her how much I enjoyed having someone to exercise with and invited her to join me again the following day at lunch. That day changed a lot, not only for her, but for me as well. She gained someone who believed in her and cared about her, and I gained a student who was more productive, determined and goal-oriented. It was the beginning of a positive and lasting relationship.
Her story is not unique. Many students come to school simply because they have to and not because they want to, and for these students, learning and succeeding are the farthest things from their minds. We are often told that to be effective teachers we need to understand the needs and interests of each individual student and are expected to differentiate our instruction accordingly. However, as educators we are seldom provided with the extensive or complex backgrounds of our students. We are more likely to be provided with how they perform academically from year to year. Based on my experience, understanding their academic needs is not enough. We must recognize their personal