Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why my students are like really big rocks

The asteroid hurtles through space on a direct collision course with earth. When it hits there will be a fiery explosion, shock-waves, death and destruction. Few will escape and the effects will be cataclysmic. This has happened before and it will sometime happen again. Scientists are searching the heavens for this planet killing asteroid. You see the sooner they find it the better chance they have of altering its course.

You can, theoretically, change the course of an asteroid. But you have to find it early.  There is an inverse relationship between the distance of the rock from earth and the amount of change you need to make in its path to keep it from hitting us. So if they find it years before it comes close to us then it might take only a small impact to throw it off course and send it away from earth. But, if they find it late, say a few months or even weeks before impact then it will take a much larger bombardment to push it enough in a new direction to avoid earth.

There is also in inverse relationship between the time a student has before graduation and the amount of pressure and intervention educators need to apply to push that student toward success and away from cataclysm. The more time you have with a student the more likely you will be able to alter his or her orbit and if you can change that trajectory just a little bit early on, then time will magnify the progress that student can make.

Nine months ago I talked a student into taking the SAT. He didn’t want to. He was heading to the local community college like his friends, maybe. I sent him down to the counseling office to get a fee waiver card. When he came back to get his things he said he would register at home. I checked with his Mother. She agreed I could keep him after school. He spent 45 minutes going through the process to register for the test with a lot of help from me about things he didn’t know: things like GPA, class rank, which courses he took, which majors he might be interested in and which testing location he should choose.

Taking the SAT allowed him to apply to colleges he otherwise wouldn’t have. He was accepted to a four year state university in Northern California. He will be leaving home in the fall. He will meet new people, learn in a new environment and establish his own identity. His orbit will change.

It was just one momentary push. One after school hour. One bit of encouragement and this young man has changed the path of his life.  Seeing his direction change made me offer after school SAT registration help to all my students and many have taken me up on that.

In education people talk about the need for early intervention and the early intervention is often an intense structured even overwhelming process.  If it is taking that much effort to move the student in a new direction then it’s not really early intervention; it’s remediation.

There are so many opportunities to change a student’s path in life. Those chances are sometimes so small and insignificant looking at the time that it is easy to miss them. Our slightest push can bring a child crashing down or spin them toward a distant star.  Kids are like really big rocks, if you can alter their course early they are much less likely to crash. Push your students away from cataclysm daily.