5 Ways to Be the High School Teacher a Struggling Student Needs

I have been teaching high school for eight years in the public school system. I have taught in two different states and three different schools. With each school, I experienced different socioeconomic levels and different ability levels of students. No matter what, I followed these practices because I never wanted to be the most knowledgeable, the most rigorous, or (gasp) the one with the highest test scores. I became a teacher to be the one there for students. I wanted to be the one a student could come to on his worst day and feel safe or heard. Here’s how I became that teacher year after year:

Write a letter about yourself on the first day of school. Mine was raw and true. I made it into the students’ first writing assignment, as they had to write back. It was unbelievable what many revealed and how much I learned. They saw me as a person, not just a teacher. And, for some, they had just been waiting for a chance, a place, to release some stress.

Greet your students at the door every day. This seems so simple but is the toughest because of everything else the job demands and how little time exists between classes. It also feels repetitive, but I realized I might be the only person who said “hi” or “good morning” with a smile to certain students.

Learn their names within a day or two. This was my self-imposed first-day-of-school homework. I would take a large chunk of time on the first day just calling roll. I’d have a print-out of each student’s picture, write the phonetic spelling of their name, and note one memorable attribute about them to aid in memory retention.

Have them fill out an information sheet and use it to check in. I would get basic information about their interests, if they had a job, what their family was like, etc. I would then make it a point to ask one student per class something specific about him or her. After a few weeks, it’s natural, and I was genuinely interested.

Insert anecdotes about your own life into your daily teaching. True, funny stories to the entire class that relate to the content or empathetic stories to a student who is experiencing something similar mean you’re more than the keeper of information; you are a role model and a source of guidance.

One thing many of my students struggle with is being told their problems are not real problems. We adults are caught up in our own, and it’s too easy to dismiss a high school break up, a fight between best friends, or a rejection letter from a college. We tend to accept that if we survived it all, so can they. But mental illness is present in teens and many schools do not have social workers available. Even when one is available, a teacher who has built rapport with her students is a valuable asset to teens with suicidal tendencies, anxiety, or depression.

Image via Thinkstock.

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