The “Can’t Do it “ Trap
There are lots of things students can’t do. They can’t fly; they can’t leap tall buildings at a single bound; and they don’t have x-ray vision. They probably won’t be professional athletes or win an academy award for acting. Those are all low probability events.
And there are lots more things that they can’t do NOW but might be able to do with fine, fine teaching unless we allow ourselves to fall into the “can’t do” trap. Everyone has seen that trap. It is lying in wait for everyone who teaches children with disabilities, poor kids or students with unstable home situations. Those traps are waiting for each and every teacher who needs an excuse for why her teaching has failed. It is very easy to just glide right into that trap. As the saying goes, “when you are deep in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging”. So here are some ways to avoid all those excuse making traps.
Give ‘em some love. There are people who will tell you that you should not get emotionally involved with your students. My advice is, if you aren’t emotionally involved with your kids, get out of the profession. Many students of poverty, dysfunctional homes and/or with disabilities that make them feel they are a disappointment to others, need love. So tell your students you love them and care about them. Trying to learn is a risk taking behavior. Children are much more likely to take that risk with someone they believe cares about them and wants the best for them. They also need to feel that it is safe to fail. They need to know that they will not be humiliated and that the teacher’s love and caring will provide a very soft landing if at first they do not succeed. So tell your students you care about them early and often.
Students need teachers. They don’t need pity for their circumstances nor do they need teachers to use those circumstances as an excuse for low expectations. We already know what the child’s yesterday looked like. We can teach to the child in the present and through that teaching we can define what his/her tomorrow will be. Think of every lesson as a stepping stone toward tomorrow and a positive future. A child may not be able to read today, but with the proper instruction step-by-step she will be able to read tomorrow. Teachers need to keep their eyes on tomorrow and build the stairway toward that tomorrow by starting with expectations today, not excuses for why-not.
Teachers need to be human with their kids and recognize that the students are human as well, young but human. If we want the children to respect us we need to build relationships with them. Talk to them (not preach). Find out what their burdens are today. Is someone sick at home? Is someone home period? Did a boy or a girlfriend reject them? Are they in competition for affection with another peer or some adult in the home? Share your own similar experiences. Let the kids know you respect their challenges and that you too are facing challenges. Those connections will make it much easier for the teacher to discipline or be trusted by the student when the student is presented with challenging work. Life is all about honest relationships.
Good leaders have a lot to do with avoiding the can't do traps. Every teacher is a leader. Leaders need to lead; you cannot blame the system or blame the student challenges. If we don’t believe in our hearts that we can change these kids’ lives, we should have stopped digging a long time ago because we are deep in the hole. “They can’t do it” trap is a deep hole. We need to stop digging and start delivering the future for our students.