Find Out Who Your Students Are
A Counselor's Perspective
Knowing her students is the secret to T'Wana Warrick-Bell's success as a counselor at Oxon Hill High School, an urban school in Prince George's County, Maryland. Students today lead different lives, says Warrick-Bell, and educators need to find out what they are like. Here are some things to consider as you try to understand your students:
Realize that some students are balancing between two different worlds.
"They want to be at school because they know that's the right thing to do," says Warrick-Bell. "They want to get some guidance and learn. But it's hard to be a big man on the streets and come back into school and have someone tell him what to do. He doesn't want to look like a chump in front of his friends."
Be aware of where your students live.
Seeing where students live sheds some light on their world. "I take new counselors on a field trip," says Warrick-Bell. "We ride in the students' neighborhoods. We see what their ride to school is like and how far they come. A lot of students have after-school activities and then a long ride home." In many cases, Warrick-Bell's students return to crowded apartment buildings and noisy streets.
Remember that many kids do not get enough guidance at home.
Parents or caregivers need to provide some kind of structure, but they aren't around all the time. Children are not being taught what's right and what's wrong. So they don't know. Some students use their parents as excuses. Saying their mom doesn't care if they swear—or use a cell phone in class. Warrick-Bell says, "Teachers may hear, 'My mom gave it to me, so she thinks it OK to talk during class.' And the educator has to say, 'No, we have rules. No cell phone conversations during class. Just put them away.'"
Get at the underlying causes of name-calling.
In one small high school where Warrick-Bell worked, several boys and girls had some hygiene issues. "The kids were making fun of one girl in particular, calling her names," says the counselor. "I dealt with them by meeting with a small group of boys and a small group of girls to discuss good hygiene." The students just needed some information. Working with smaller groups (fewer than 50) is the most effective, she says, and you're more likely to reach the students who need to hear the message.
Figure out why kids are being verbally abusive with you.
Some kids tell the counselor that they wouldn't have been verbally abusive to the teacher if the teacher had not provoked them. In one instance, a student always waited in the hall until the bell rang before stepping into class and the teacher wanted them in their seats when it rang. The kid kept doing it and one day, the teacher closed her door to the student. It escalated situation and the kid said something. Teachers need to think about why kids are speaking out and see if they are contributing to the problem. When Warrick-Bell talks with teachers after an incident with a student, a teacher will sometimes say, "Yes I did it, but I'm tired of them getting up and walking around the room when they feel like it." No one is perfect. Sometimes you just have a bad day.
Remember students are human beings too.
They come to school having a bad day too.
Work with other educators.
If you have continuing problems with a student who’s being disruptive, begin by seeking assistance in your building.
Talk with other teachers who have that student and educational support professionals who interact with the student. Find out how they are dealing with that student. If everyone is having a problem with the student, talk about taking some action as a group. Have the student talk with the school counselor Have the student talk with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Get to Know Your School Counselor
Counselors are there to help students and the educators that work with them, so Warrick-Bell encourages educators to consider her a resource. "I don't think I'm a magician," she says, "but as a counselor, I have strategies. Sometimes, I'll ask to come into a classroom and talk with the students to help them in getting along with others, showing respect, or appreciating diversity." Sometimes, watching another adult interact with your students can give you new insights as you get to know your students.
About the Author
T'Wana Warrick-Bell is a counselor at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George's County, Maryland. And she serves as the chairperson for NEA's Counselors Caucus.