By Dani Yanssens
I LOVE sharp pencils! They make me feel happy and energetic and I immediately want to create something! Every task seems more manageable when I have a sharp pencil in my hand. To me, sharp pencils represent the beginning of the school year – a new start. A fresh perspective on what is to come. As a teacher, things like sharp pencils, decorating my classroom for the new school year and a new pack of lined paper all represent a wonderful time of year. I always loved school and couldn’t wait to get back, both as a student and a teacher. In my current profession I have been reminded often that there are many students who don’t feel the same way. Homework and tests do not come easily to everyone. Those kids who often fail in traditional courses and don’t have support or reassurance from those who are close to them can see school can be a horrific place. Students who struggle from learning disabilities, have never learned to read for comprehension or have missed so much school that they lag far behind their peers are frustrated in school and often feel like failures. To compound on their difficulties, they are often teased and criticized by other students, and unfortunately sometimes by teachers and family members. Most of our students struggled academically, socially or emotionally throughout their education before enrolling with us. They are not excited to be attending any school, ever. While doing some new teacher training recently, one of our current students Skyped in to talk to the teachers about online high school from a student’s perspective. He reminded us all of a valuable lesson when working with at-risk kids. He told us all that the biggest thing to remember when working with our online students, is to “be patient”. He said that school does not come easily to most of our students, they have a hard time “getting things” and used himself as an example. He thanked his current teachers for being patient with him and making him feel like an important part of our school. As you can imagine, many of us were brought to tears.
Be patient and kind with your at-risk students. They will learn, just not at the same rate as other kids. As a lover of sharp pencils, I sometimes forget that there are students who are not as excited to be in school as I am, but with the right kind of care and encouragement, maybe they will be next year.
Danielle Yanssens is in charge of Continuous Improvement for MyVirtualAcademy.com – Her organization also offers On-site Alternative Education programs, several free online learning options and credit recovery for students throughout the state of Michigan.