One of the greatest challenges for any teacher working with local urban area adolescent students is to find an area of commonality, something that promotes a link between teacher and student as a prerequisite to learning. At times, teachers less familiar with the special needs of the urban student population can make the mistake of attempting to place skittish learners on a more ambitious life track than they are prepared for and then wonder why a circular argument ensues.
Is it really better to persuade our less privileged students to earn a “high salary”, whatever that is, post-high school, and to try to instill in them the need for upward mobility upon graduation, perhaps in the way many of us were raised, coming from a decidedly more middle-class upbringing? Or, should teachers simply accept a more predictable course for these kids, as dictated by their socio-economic realities?
It is an interesting question and probably one for endless debate. It is indeed tempting for educators to fall back on a more traditional “pep talk” style approach, painting the picture of what life can look like if you work hard, provide for your family, and earn a high income. If you really want to drive the point home, you could also try to prove to them that finding a “good” mate depends on what they do for themselves in school. But, why?
The best solution may be to adopt another attitude. Take a step back for a moment. Students need to be met where they are and often, finding that place can be one of the most insurmountable tasks inner-city educators face. Ditch the lectures and focus on the preliminary character strengths one needs to be in the ballpark of success. That is what urban teachers are doing or, hopefully, attempting to accomplish. Model these behaviors, instill and reshape habits that contribute to impressive, practical life skills. If you start there, you can never go wrong. Success can be defined in many ways. For these kids, standing stronger in the short term, i.e. earning a diploma, being hired, and staying gainfully employed might just be enough to get them “off and running” in their own paths of success later on!