I think it is safe to assume most people have heard the phrase “you can lead the horse to water but you can't make it drink.” As teachers we do a lot of leading horses to water. In addition, we do a fair amount of herding kittens but that is a topic for another time. We do everything we can to help our students. Not so long ago, a struggling student was written off as a failure or somebody who just wasn't trying hard enough. They were viewed as lazy or in some crueler spaces labeled as just dumb. Nowadays we are able to analyze and identify learning disabilities and a whole host of root causes to student’s lack of success in school. We can then take these learning discrepancies and potentially negative influences on students’ learning and target interventions to help them. The depth and breadth of interventions available to teachers to help students really is amazing. In other words, we have lots of tools at our disposal to help our horses drink.
However, the reality is some horses just won't drink. There are some students that we just can't move or help or change. Often times this is due to an ingrained belief system, culture, or way of life the student has had a lifetime of experience with. No matter how much we support kid, if there is not a supportive network in their lives outside of school there's only so much we can do. If they have a lifetime of influence telling them the “water” is poisoned there is little we will do to change that way of thinking. There are certainly exceptions to this but it is sadly too often a reality.
This is not to say we give up on a kid because we never will. However, far too many teachers feel as though they need to be a martyr. Or better yet they are the saint that is going to save a child as if they need to be saved. We have to be willing to understand and accept we can't help them all. We will try and not give up but not all horses will drink the water.
Other horses don’t drink because the water we are serving is not the water they need. This brings up the question about the role of school in its traditional sense. Simply put, schools are not providing for all kids what they need. Naturally this can be broken down to micro details, but the reality is school is not for every kid and yet we force all kids into the same general programs. We all have students who we know school is not working for and we can’t try to push it on them. We have to allow them to navigate the content at their own pace and support their growth as a person which will serve them far greater in there life than some prescribed content.
Maybe we need to ease up on trying to think we can get all horses to drink the water and possible shift our thinking. We need to stop beating ourselves up and trying to become martyrs for the sake of our students. As teachers, we will do anything and everything we can to help a kid. Yet, the reality is we have to recognize it won’t work for every single one of them. We don’t have to like that or be ok with it but we have to accept it. Instead, let us celebrate those that do buy in and engage in school and support those that don't by providing them options to the “water” in our schools.