“Hey, Mr. V!” Billy said as he came into my resource room at a small Midwest high school on a Monday morning. “Guess what? I didn’t get arrested once this weekend!”
For Billy, this is an accomplishment. He is an at-risk freshman whose parents taught him to drink and steal by the time he was 11. Weekends usually involved being drunk or high and fleeing from or being arrested by the police.
James is quieter. He is very bright, but does not achieve success because he is too busy taking care of his mother. On one notable occasion, she spotted a police car outside her house, crawled under James’ bed and hid there all night. She was afraid the police were coming to ask her about James’ older brother, a known drug dealer and felon. James does not use drugs at all, because he sees what they have done to his family. Upon occasion, his mother also asks him to hide her medication because she is afraid she might try to commit suicide.
As an at-risk teacher, my class was filled with students like Billy and James. Some came from difficult family backgrounds. One of my students wore a court-mandated ankle bracelet so she would not run away from home again. Alan, another student, is a youth leader in the local KKK, blaming his problems on African-Americans and other minorities.
Almost more important than teaching these students academics, I needed to teach them values – and give them hope that another way of living was possible for them.
We spent a lot of time talking, these students and me. I always listened without judging, trying to understand what life is like when you are simply trying to survive. I tried to role model for them how a person with values would act and respond to the trials they routinely encountered. Using active listening skills, I was able to gain their trust.
And, some of them did change.
As educators, we now educate students who are very different than in the past. These students need more than just facts and academics. They need positive influences and role models in their lives.
Whether we actually teach values, or simply listen and model them, they are now a part of what our students learn from us.
Truthfully, we teach values whether it is our responsibility or not. Recognizing this, we should be reflective and deliberate about the values that we share with our students. Most of all, we must give them hope.
Alan paid me a visit at school sometime after he left. He had quit the KKK and was working as a taxidermist, a great job for a person whose greatest pleasure was spending time in the woods and hunting.
“Mr. V,” he said, “I just wanted to thank you. You showed me that my life could be different, and now it is. I have a great job and a steady girlfriend. You taught me how.”
As servant teachers, it is our responsibility and our blessing to teach values to our students.
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