So if this kid doesn’t want to be in school, and the teacher wants him to be, who wins? Welcome to The Power of The Least Interested inside the school room.
Teacher workshops, trainings and discussions often focus on how to make reluctant high school students become more interested in learning. Engaging students becomes, of course, the job of the teacher, who is struggling not only to prove to these disinterested kids that learning is interesting, but also to gain acceptance. The onus is on the teacher to pull the uninterested student into the relationship and into the world of learning—and until she accomplishes this, her less interested students have power over her (and, often, over her career!). National programs like the Critical Friends Group, which supports and encourages teachers, are proof that the least interested—the kids—hold the power. It’s not the children who come together to figure out how to deal with the most interested, but rather, the teachers in need of the enormous support, encouragement and confidence-building necessary to tackle the powerful! And teachers often use Critical Friends Group as an opportunity to discuss successful methods for engaging students while sharing tricks of the trade.
Erin Gruwell won national recognition for her work with students in Long Beach, California. When she started teaching at Wilson High School, she confronted a roomful of kids who had been deemed “unteachable”. Over time, she transformed their experiences by using diary entries, personal writing, as a way of engaging them. She taught through memoirs, literature and writing. Gruwell’s methods are now taught throughout the country and widely used in areas where “at risk” youth—the least interested of the least interested—are struggling with schools and teachers.
In one particularly dramatic example of the power of the least interested in our school system, Nathan Levenson, Arlington Massachusetts’ school superintendent, once asked for a clause in his contract that gives him a five percent pay cut if his system fails to improve the academic performance of the children. His success was to be measured by standardized scores, the number of students who graduate, and which colleges these students attend. He’d take away a 10 percent pay hike. He bet his salary against his student’s successes—and the town was staring at a schoolful of children and teens having nothing whatsoever to boast about but possessing the Power of the Least Interested!
Next time: More on the Power of the Least Interested