Obstacles to learning

It was a short week, given the Monday holiday, but that never seems to bring much relief (where ‘relief’ = peace of mind, confidence, relaxation, etc.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my students this week (obviously, but more than usual is what I mean). We’re barely into 2nd semester, but I feel I know them all pretty well now, and so I’ve been dwelling on the things that keep them from being here, present, focused, and engaged in learning.

So I ditched my plans for the day and held a restorative circle, with one simple prompt,

What are the things in your life that keep you from engaging in meaningful learning? That are obstacles…that prevent you from being here every day, on time, engaged, ready and willing to learn?

I started, as I always do, and I told the kids what keeps me from being here, present, properly planned and ready to give them the best version of myself each day.

  • I talked about my commute – that spending 2 1/2 hours a day in the car is a barrier for me, no doubt.
  • And I talked about how life just seems to intervene…things are going great, you’re feeling grateful and happy and like all your worries have been laid to rest, and then something happens that turns it upside down and in floods the worry.

The talking ball made its way around the room and almost everyone shared. Plenty of what you might expect – not enough sleep, too much time on their phones or watching Youtube or playing video games – but a few other obstacles I suspected (feared), but hadn’t heard them come right out and say before.

  • Difficult and stressful relationships at home
  • Anxiety
  • Responsibilities to contribute to their households – money, childcare, housework, etc
  • Humiliation at the hands of their parents
  • Lack of parent interaction (due to working several jobs or having one or both parents living in Mexico)

The list goes on, but regardless the details, the point is simply this. Young people in our community (every community, really) face challenges I never faced. They are forced to contend with issues that are well beyond their years, and the impacts of that stress are real.

It’s super frustrating, as a teacher, to have to contend with students who face these issues. Teaching these students is so much harder than teaching students who have all the expected academic foundations, the emotional support and the resources to take advantage of enrichment opportunities.

But imagine how frustrating it is for these students. Imagine how much harder it is for them to learn. Harder still with a teacher who doesn’t bother to ask.

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