At my school, I organize a “Young Men’s Club” for students that are from marginalized backgrounds with the hope that our meetings, once a week, at lunch time, will steer them into a productive path. I routinely bring in speakers from all walks of life. Being that most middle-school aged boys dream of being athletes, I have had a host of CFL players come in and speak about what it takes to make it to that next level. But because I don’t want my students to internalize the idea that their life is limited and boxed in by hegemonic notions of masculinity, I also bring in a mix of successful men who are well-off in all walks of life. Most recently, I brought in a speaker who is a Ph.D student studying at OISE. I gave him a simple preamble: talk to these kids about your life and try to connect. All of the men I bring have no teacher certification. Heck, they probably don’t even know what teacher certification means! But they are the some of most engaging and inspirational educators I have been around.
As for these boys, whether in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, many are already on the fringe of giving up on school as a whole. These are the boys who never sit through a whole math or science lesson. These are the boys who get in trouble for being loud, or not walking in line, or protesting the implicit rules about school. These are the boys who know the Principal’s office inside and out and no longer fear that as a consequence. And these children are not even in high school yet.
Yet, they devote their lunch time, once a week (and plead for the club to convene on an everyday basis), to sitting and listening to a parade of speakers who come in to talk to them about life, expectations, and goals. As a teacher who sees these students every day and the so-called “havoc” they cause, it is ironic to observe them sitting attentively for a whole hour on end, listening. During our sessions, these so-called “bad apples” sit, engage and participate in discussion. My friend, who is the Ph.D student, finally brought this clarity to my understanding.
He talked about his life, the importance of school, and more importantly, the importance on knowing why the “game” of succeeding in school is so important. See, these students might be disruptions in a regular class, but they are bright, opinionated and insightful young students. Having an adult who can actually connect can change the whole context of a classroom.
My Young Men’s Club works not because we are talking about things that are important to these students. Yes, we are talking about sports and goals and life paths – all things (unfortunately) that are not curriculum objectives. But these speakers are taking time to actually talk to kids. My friend talked about how “understanding your why is the most important thing you will ever discover in your life.” Through that, he unpacked family situations, motivation, and self-discovery. But beyond his lesson, he had the patience and took the time to listen to these boys. As an observer, the results were astronomical.
After the meeting was over, I had a conversation with my friend. He told me that the one hour he spent with the kids gave him a unique energy. I relayed to him that, after his “talk”, a few of the students immediately started making better use of their class time, completing their math work in class (something they had hardly ever done before), and they continue to make a conscientious effort to try.
The sad part is, despite his intent on doing so, this impressionable educator would never be able to teach unless he got a Bachelor of Education. He has his Masters in Education and is working on a Ph.D in education but he still wouldn’t be able to teach elementary school. Despite his credentials and ability to connect with youth, he is not “certified” to teach 5th graders how to long divide or teach 8th graders about Confederation. Something is wrong with this picture, something is dearly wrong with this establishment we currently call “education”.
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