Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

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We have all heard the term “it takes a village” when talking about raising children. I remember rocking my son to sleep in the middle of the night thinking, where is my village?

As he grew up, the thought kept coming into my mind, where is this village everybody talked about? Is there a 1-800 number I was supposed to call? My husband and I had help here and there as we started our parenting journey, but by the third kid, this magical notion of a village had yet to show up.

It wasn’t until my eldest started school that I realized the village was there waiting for us in the form of a magical teacher. She helped us navigate this new journey through education. My husband and I are both high school teachers, but nothing prepared us for the trials and tribulations of kindergarten. Between mean kids, homework and the new struggle of needing to sit still, kindergarten threw us for a loop. Thankfully, this village coming to our aid in the form of his teacher was exactly what we needed. She has helped guide us, supported our son academically and behaviorally, all while staying so positive.

As a high school educator, I feel I have let my students’ parents down. I have not been their village, beyond educating their child in the classroom. Why is it that when students enter high school, support seems to drop drastically? In such a pivotal time in their lives, we abandon the constant support they are used to having at school.

Just think back to your own education: Elementary school was filled with songs, Play-Doh, story time and recess. High school is filled with deadlines, hormones and the dreaded mile run. Students went from enjoying school to now being held responsible for organizing their papers, keeping deadlines, making sure their papers are in MLA format, and memorizing scientific root terms. They are expected to deal with much more rigorous work even as their hormones rage on, their frontal lobes are undeveloped and their bodies are changing. All these new changes and we are providing them with less support. Why?

In my experience as a teacher, there are two reasons why we let our students down:

  1. We assume they’re prepared enough by now.
  2. We are so busy with huge classes that we can’t give them the attention they deserve.

I struggle with remembering names, who is having issues with whom and which student was out for the stomach flu. It’s no secret teachers are busy people with larger-than-ever class sizes. So how can we add to our already full plates? How can we show up for our students and be part of the village they deserve?

Over my years of teaching I have created small steps that have helped me support my students:

  1. Incorporating a warm-up into the class time. This is the easiest and most effective. There are three questions, two are review questions from the day before and one is a social emotional question. The social emotional question allows me to see very quickly who is struggling. For example, if the question is “what is one thing you’re happy about today?” and the student answers something along the lines of “nothing good ever happens,” I know that I need to reach out to that student on the side. Using a platform like a Google Forms allows me to quickly read all the answers and see who needs support from me or a counselor, so I can discreetly reach out.
  2. Talking with students about my own life and my own academic struggles. When my students hear that I struggled as a student and I still turned out OK, it gives them a sense of calm. For so long they are told grades are everything — if you don’t get good grades, you’re lazy or a failure, and so on. Well, they find it comforting to know that those statements are not always true. Hearing my story, my struggles in school, they realize that they can always change their path for the better.
  3. Communicating with parents. I admit that I am terrible at communicating with parents. I am easily reachable via email, but I am not the best at initiating the conversation. Setting small goals of making five positive phone calls per week is a manageable task. When students get those positive phone calls, their entire demeanor and perception of school can shift. They are seen. They are validated. What an easy way to show students you care and see their hard work.

If you’re a parent of a high school student wondering what you can do to support your child, the answer is simple: Show up. Be there for their events, ask them how they’re doing, check in with their teachers, and simply let them know that you were once a teenager who also had struggles. Asking surface-level questions (How was your day? Do you have homework?) will result in surface-level answers (fine/OK, no). Having a parental connection is so vital for a healthy relationship built on trust and understanding.

So where is the village? It’s here! It’s a village of parents, teachers, counselors, principals and everything in between. We all need to add to the village and support these kids that are so wonderfully strange, beautifully unique, and strong beyond belief.

•••

Kati Begen is a high school biology educator and credential coach at Duncan Polytechnical High School in Fresno Unified. She is currently working on her Ed. D. in curriculum and assessment at Southern Wesleyan University.

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