Replace Fear with Hope

Initially, I’m starting this new blog to hopefully receive ideas and advice. Then, throughout the school year, I will chronicle my students’ experiences, successes, failures, and triumphs.

You know that student. We’ve all taught him or her. They are the students who pluck our nerves, turn us grey, and sometimes even make us cry. Whether they are defiant, apathetic, disrespectful, crude, angry, sad, or a mixed salad of emotions, they make our jobs in education a challenge. Some are fighting demons at home, some have learning difficulties, some see no connection to school and a future that can drag them out of their current circumstances, and some live in fear and have simply never felt hope.

Most sane educators would never ask to have all of these students in one class. I guess I’m not most educators, or maybe I’m just not sane, but last spring an idea hit me, and I’m pleased that my administration has supported the idea and told me to “go for it.” I believe these students deserve to feel hope, for it alone can conquer their fears.

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I teach high-school level computer applications to 8th grade students in a very rural Virginia county (less than 1,000 students total K-12) on the Chesapeake Bay. Like many areas with waterfront property, the county (and my students) is clearly divided between the haves and the have-nots.

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In addition to exploring a variety of online applications through project-based learning, my students have the opportunity to earn the CTE certification that is required for graduation in Virginia. To transition students into the high school and subsequent available CTE courses, it was decided that my students would certify as Microsoft Office Specialists in Word, PowerPoint, or both.

Now, think about those students I described before. Why would a student who sees no hope for their future care about learning how to format a business letter in Word? Why would a student who is simply holding on until he or she is old enough to drop out want to learn the intricacies of a presentation software? Why would these mostly minority male students want to listen to another older white female tell them what they should do? Every year I have approximately 10-15% of my students who do not pass the MOS certification test, and some of those don’t pass my class.

So here is the bare bones of my plan…think Workplace Readiness mixed with a little Dirty Jobs and a lot of real talk from men who work hard. These students, although they will use Office products and other applications while in the classroom, will not struggle through in-depth study to pass the MOS test. Instead, they will take field trips to visit a nearby paper mill that employees many people in the area, the local Coast Guard station, a construction site, a road crew, an auto mechanic shop, and even a college to hear from the athletic director, since many of these boys view sports as their way out of their current circumstances. If I can’t find funds to take them to these sites, I will invite people to come talk to them in the classroom. The boys will also learn self-presentation skills for interviewing and networking. Many have never eaten a meal with more than one utensil. While some people might look at these boys and think “thugs,” I understand that many don’t have a model to follow at home. How to dress, table manners, and other common courtesies aren’t being ignored; they’ve simply never been taught. I want to expose these students to the skills they need for others to give them a chance.

My initial step will be to apply for local and national grants for the necessary money to fund my vision. When school starts the day after Labor Day, I’m going to greet each of these boys with a proper handshake, and after that, I’m prepared to be amazed by all that they accomplish.

If you have any ideas or advice you can offer, I will be forever grateful!