Diversity is a strange thing. It works if people are comfortable with the traits and dynamics that all members of the population bring. It is the path to hell when the traits that participants bring go against the expectations that have been set beforehand. My former school superintendent, Lester W. Young, Jr., always said (and I paraphrase), "Schools should be able to adapt and change in order to respond appropriately to the children that come through their doors; the expectation shouldn't be that the children will change in order to fit into the school building." So when students, through a generally long and torturous road, find themselves at our high school, most usually feel accepted for who they are for the first time in many years (if ever).
- Many of our kids are a bit tough, but often they and their families have really been through some things, and are still going through them. I have foster kids, homeless kids, and kids who live independently.
- Many are not friendly up front, and can be downright rude, but they have often been rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, and left behind in a lot of classrooms-- and they are expecting the worse from their teachers.
- Some don't listen very well, and that's because many have been taking care of themselves and their siblings for a while, or have been dismissed because they themselves haven't felt listened to or heard because they don't speak standard English, or have the right tone of voice.
- And some can honestly be called mean as snakes, but that's because they are angry as hell because of what has happened in their young lives, and oftentimes teachers have been part of their daily misery. But it's hard to know and understand the "big picture" when there's a whole classroom full of personalities needing attention.
But I had a great week because this is the time in the semester that the students know that I really do accept them for who they are, and I want the best for them. Most have fallen into the habit of working hard for me, and I have created a safe environment where some will begin to struggle and read aloud, and stumble over words that children 8 or 9 years younger can breeze through; and I dare anybody to make them feel less than courageous and hardworking. In such settings, the gap finally begins to close because they are met where they are, and they feel better about themselves as students. Some let their brilliance show for the first time because they can bring their whole selves with them--especially their unique perspectives.
There are a lot of grey areas in education, but my tips are really for people who work with children and young adults. Try very hard to like them and connect with them. You never know what they are going through and who they really want to be inside. Think of how it is in a large family where each child has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points. The parents' job is to juggle the responses and see with a large and ever-trolling eye. It's a juggling act, but that is the important and bottom line work of it.