Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Forgotten Ones

Lately in my language arts class our focus has been on listening and speaking skills. Specifically, we are working on public speaking, which can be very difficult for some students…and adults. I model and help them along the way as best I can. We start out with doing some silly speeches, which are short with the goal of getting the students comfortable in front of their peers. Last week we decided to take a little bit of a turn and I tried to infuse a little bit of character education within the speeches.

We were having some class discussions about reputations and how we establish and change them. That led us into a conversation about a legacy and what an individual leaves behind when they move on into another phase of their life. It was a fantastic conversation so I decided to make the next speeches around that topic. I asked the students to write a one-minute speech about how they thought their peers viewed them. In other words, what did they think their reputation was? On top of that, I wanted them to go into what they wanted their legacy to be when they left our school in three years and went on to the high school.

I was a little skeptical on what I was going to get back because students, I assumed, would not really have a grasp on how they were viewed by other people. I was pretty confident that most students would come up and think they were good kids and everybody liked them and they just want to be remembered for being a good kid who got good grades.

On the day of the speeches I noticed a lot of the students were hesitant and I would say almost a little nervous looking. We had a conversation about making sure we had an environment of trust and anything shared during these conversations would be kept in the room. The kids were all about it and it seemed like there generally was a touch of excitement about the speeches behind the nervous energy you could sense in the room.

The first few were nothing special in terms of content. They got up and they knew they were good kids they wanted to keep being good kids. Then I had one of my very quiet and shy female students come up front and give a speech. Everybody in the room went dead quiet. She gave a speech about who she thought she was. She assumed that most people, even those in our own class, didn't even know her name because she was so quiet. She shared how she was tired of living in other people’s shadows. She went on to talk about how she wants to change and she wants people to see her, hear her and know her. Her legacy was she wanted people to simply know her name. I am not sure why this particular speech struck me but the fact that a 6th grader wanted their legacy to just simply be known took me by surprise. She didn't say she wanted to be known for being a fantastic athlete or a musician or even a high achieving student. She simply wanted her name to be known.

For some reason I just thought about this student and I could not get her speech out of my head. I have so many conversations with teachers about how we're meeting the needs of all of our learners. I look at what we do in school everyday to push kids in all of the varying groups and subgroups. I think about how much time, energy, money, and resources is spent on the “lower end” of our student population making sure we get them above that sacred “meets” line. Then I see how much time we spend trying to enrich and push our gifted kids.

Yet, I bet if you look at your classrooms and your schools, the squeaky wheels always get the oil. That is to mean that we often forget about our quiet kids or the forgotten ones. The kids who sit and do their work and are quiet and don't cause a problem. These kids can go through an entire day without a single teacher or peer speaking to them. It really made me look at what I'm doing this school year. I've made no secret about the group of students that I have this year and the challenges they have brought me as a person and as a teacher. It is very easy for 10 percent of the students to take up 90 percent of my time. There are days where I feel like those 10 percent consume 98 percent of my time and attention.

This particular student’s speech struck a chord reminding me to make a renewed effort to focus on and build relationships with those quiet kids. This particular student really brought home for me the idea that they often have the most to say and the most to offer as well as are the most likely to be forgotten and ignored. What are you doing to connect with the forgotten ones in your school or your classroom?