Making the Connection (Guest Post from PCHS AP Mark Cox)

Is achievement and learning simply about a standardized test score? Should Educators be held responsible for these scores or use them to help students improve and achieve to the best of their ability? As Educators we struggle with the value of the test versus the value of student connections. We formulate plans to help increase reading levels, we block periods to try and help students understand math problems that have no meaning, we set up programs after school to allow all students access to technology and tutors, but yet students still fail classes, get held back, or even drop out with no vision for their future or guidance to help them reach even minimal goals.

Helping students grow emotionally and mentally goes way beyond any test score that is supposed to represent how well we teach. Helping a student means making the connection, creating those interpersonal relationships that foster respect, pride, and ethics in a student are what matter the most. Test scores, GPA, and class rank are important, and will fall in place when connections are made between a teacher and their students. So how does one make that happen? I am not entirely sure how to reach everyone, but I will share how I managed to form strong connections with two young men that created relationships where we all influenced one another.

We see many students who have been retained, dropped-out, fallen behind in earning credits, returned from juvenile detention center, or even prison. I had the unusual and unexpected circumstance to connect with two struggling young men that fit several of the conditions mentioned above . Many second chances had previously been given to these young men through various sources, but to no avail. Both boys, you might say, had to figure it out the hard way. With little time left to graduate do to age restrictions and many credits to recover, the boys were placed in our alternative education program. A class of two I guess you would say. The schedule did not allow anytime for Physical Education and both needed the credits to graduate, so I decided we would have P.E. after regular school hours and I would run the class that consisted of lifting, running, walking, and stretching. Both boys were in and agreed to give it a try, and soon my own 14 year old was coming after school to work out.

During these work outs something much more important than a credit or great test score occurred.  We all earned respect for each other and for ourselves. I saw my two students begin to take pride in not only their own accomplishments, but in the accomplishments of others including my son and I.  I listened to two young men who began to talk about responsibility for poor decisions and to make positive ones in the future.  I watched as the two students began to engage in a healthy competition not only in the the weight room, but in their academic endeavors as well. Finally, and most surprisingly my two students began to show some leadership. I listened to these two so-called misfits talk about their mistakes and consequences as we worked out week after week. I listened to them lecture my son about how drugs or alcohol had negatively influenced their lives and if they could take back time, things would have been different. These walk and talks that we engaged during classes turned into Father/son like discussions that had great value to me personally. My son got to hear the real affects of poor decisions and how they can completely turn your life upside down. The boys became leaders with a positive message and real life experiences to learn from that no text book would ever teach my son or me for that matter. I developed a respect for these two young men and found myself unwilling to allow them to fail again. I found myself caring about their success as if they were my own children. They reminded me what is was like to feel like when you become so passionate about completing a task, that failure is not a thought or option.

Today they are on the verge of becoming Graduates. I know my son will miss the work out sessions with these young men and life lessons they taught him, as will I. The conversations, lessons, and work ethic learned in this make-shift P.E. class went way beyond any expectation I ever had at the beginning of the year. I believe that the connections made far outweigh any test score either boy had during his high school career and I can see in their eyes and smiles that they truly did learn to appreciate the value of hard work, honesty, responsibility, and more importantly an education. When they finally walk across that stage I will be as proud for them as they are for themselves. That my friends is what education should be all about!

Photo courtesy of Roger Smith’s Flickr Photostream

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