“This” Population

I’m so sick of hearing teachers say, “That (approach, program, lesson) won’t work for ‘this’ population.”  I get it, guys.  You teach kids who come from poverty.  Kids who don’t have enough to eat.  Who don’t have good home lives.  They might not even have homes.  Kids who might have family members in jail, or in gangs.  Kids whose parents are so busy working, there is no family time.  Kids who probably don’t choose to read on a daily basis.  I get it.  I’ve taught those kids, too.  And I’ve struggled.  I left one school in tears almost every day for a whole year because it was so frustrating.

But that doesn’t mean I dumbed down my instruction.  Or rejected a student-centered approach.  I’ve seen this happen way too many times.  Teachers give students fill-in-the-blank worksheets because “that’s all these kids can handle.” Or they ask kids to all write to the same prompt because “they can’t think of their own topics.”  Or kids spend hours on rote learning because they “don’t know how to do anything else.”  You know, “this” population. It’s all they’re capable of.

No, no and no. “This” population might need more scaffolding.  Or more time to gain trust.  More building of background knowledge.  They certainly don’t need to be turned away from an approach that will make them more independent.  They don’t need cookie-cutter assignments or busy-work.  They need to be challenged.  They need to be taught to set goals and to work in groups and to solve problems.  They need lots of time-on-text to practice reading.  They need to work on self-selected writing pieces.  Just like any other population.

The next time you’re tempted to say your students can’t do it because they’re from “this” population, I want you to think about one thing.  Any principal, any administrator, any staff developer, any educator could say that about you, for whatever reason.  ”Oh, these teachers.  They’re from ‘this’ population. They probably won’t get it.”

And wouldn’t that feel like a giant slap in the face?

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