During my recent 2 years working at a local high school in Belize I quickly found out about the very public cases of students who were gossiped about openly by other students, teachers, and the community. Some students had parents who were alcoholics and fought a lot, were drug dealers “serving time”, or were physical and emotional abusers at home. There were many other students with their very own secrets -- hidden and locked away from everyone else. Many were shy students who never said much. They may have appeared average and wore the proper school uniform; but I soon learned what many of them had to deal with at home: parents’ or guardians’ drunken fights and constant assaults on them by family members, physical abuse, and a “lot” more.
Many of us have no idea what happens to our students after they leave school everyday. We can only guess why many come to school everyday hurt, fearful, and sad. These are so often the ones who get into trouble a lot a school – fighting, arguing, or even sleeping in class. Even when they try to smile these students bury their secrets well. And although we are unable to change the many challenges they face outside the classroom, we can provide them with safe classrooms: shelters from their wars.
Therefore, we should make our classrooms be places where students are able to “breathe easy” and know that they’re loved, wholly protected there, and free to enjoy learning without always having to worry about being criticized, beaten, and put down. Let us establish classrooms that are safe and nourishing havens, especially for the daily learning that we want all students to enjoy.
Teachers and students are human beings, have value, and deserve respect. Sadly, many students don’t get respect where they live. Learning, for each student, is tied to the sense of respect he/she receives and to his/her sense of self-worth. But, so often, so many young students have no self-worth. Let us, then, always try to see our students through lens of dignity. For some, school is the only place where they get any respect and dignity. Let us therefore not label them as “at risk”, “below average”, “problem” or “troubled” students. Rather, let’s help them to see themselves and also look up to all educators through lens of dignity!
Dignity, nonetheless, cannot be forced on anyone, or taught. Many high school students (especially the first year) are at a challenging developmental stage where they often drop back into preadolescent ways of thinking and/or acting. Let’s keep in mind that all adults (except the perfect ones amongst us) went through a similar developmental stage in life. Rather, in an effort to understand, honor, and respect each student’s human dignity we educators should model it for them, as well as for our peers and for others.
Students come to school to learn to read and write, and to socialize so they can also fit into society. To be able to do both, they also must learn and practice the important art of “discipline”. As a guidance counselor I know that education, especially with seniors, takes on full focus and purpose once they start thinking of what they want in life: a career . As educators, then, let’s not only teach students how to pass tests, but also help them learn to define their goals, visions, ambitions and aspirations for a better Belize.