27 October 2010

Student Empowerment

I've been reading in the book, Choosing Democracy, by Duane Campbell, as a part of a Sociology of Cultures Communities and Schools, ED 6093.

One of the quotes I liked was, "When students recognize their own cultural context, they can learn to think critically about it and make meaningful decisions about their life opportunities." Now, this is a quote I can get behind and support. I like the idea. However, I am not sure that we are able, as teachers, to get this point across effectively to students. Can I get an amen? There are students in my classes who are not having their basic needs met. Have a look at Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. There are a lot of students who come to school hungry. Their parents depend on the school to teach them how to be human beings. They depend on the school to feed them. Many of these parents are not even getting their basic needs met. Therefore, they are not meeting the needs of their children.

The quote above implies that students are able to reach self-actualization. How can we expect this if we are not able to meet their basic physiological needs, their needs of safety, and their needs of love and belonging? This last need, the need of love and belonging, really stems from a students identity, specifically their cultural identity. However, how do we as teachers make them care enough to learn their own culture? What motivation do they have to learn this? To identify with it? Some of them already have a culture, a group identity, generally this is in the form of a gang.

I have learned to accept that I cannot "reach" every student. This doesn't mean that I stop trying. I do, however, try to build relationships with each student. I am definitely not successful at this task, but I still try. It seems that this year I am being less successful than ever before. I am not sure why, but that is my perception for this year. It seems that even as I become more successful with my curriculum and technology integration, I become less successful at building relationships with students. I don't know, maybe I'm losing sight of what's really important.

Even as I write this I am frustrated because there are so many different issues that our students deal with. Teachers need to be equipped to handle pregnancy, drugs, hormones, relationship drama, and more. It is so difficult as a teacher to see students who are struggling with issues other than academics. The really sad part is that these issues usually affect their academics as well, which compounds a student's problems.

So, the meat of my thinking is this: what can I do as a teacher to meet students needs so that I can then motivate them to become culturally aware? To motivate them to be able to be successful in their studies? This is the way to student empowerment. Students who are successful in academics (there are differing levels of success for different students) have options. If students drop out of school or barely make it out of school, they are locked in to a low paying job for the rest their lives, barring some act of providence.

Sadly, these are questions that I don't have the answers to at this point in my life. If you have ideas, I'd surely love to hear them.

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