Class Clowns: Not That Funny
Recently, I participated in a webinar, sponsored by JESNA, on issues related to complementary (supplementary, part-time) schools.
This was an unusual experience. I was asked to facilitate a group of about ten online participants and discuss the topic of declining attendance. Aside from one familiar name, I didn’t know any one. We examined the issue from the point of view of these stakeholders; Education Director, Parent, and Teacher, and we brainstormed a list of issues surrounding the topic.
It was interesting that this online group of educators and school directors, representing schools from all over the country, mentioned a familiar list: conflicting activities, less parental engagement, too few class expectations, too much school homework, class management issues, social pressures, plus other reasons that were sound and thoughtful.
I’m sure many of us approached this issue of declining attendance in a variety of contexts and perhaps came up with similar but expanded lists of reasons and issues. So, what’s the news here?
I’m not sure what anyone else took away from this online discussion, but for me, there was a particular enlightening moment.
When I suggested we view this issue from the vantage point of the student, I was literally overwhelmed with all of the emotional baggage that our students have to deal with when they attend erratically.
To be clear, these are not going to be things that haven’t come up in conversations before.
It’s just that listed all together, I felt such compassion for that poor kid having to attend any program in this way.
Would any adult be able to handle such a thing? “Kind of” attending a program? Participating “now and then”?
Really, just think about this for a minute. How comfortable would you be in this situation? Think about the social and academic implications.
Now, think of how you might experience this as an adolescent:
You are lost most of the time. Most likely, you haven’t kept up with the work. You don’t really know everything the teacher is referencing, but you pretend because you don’t want to ask questions or ‘stick out’. You may be out of things socially. You may cover up this inadequacy with acting out behavior. You need some sort of role in the class, and class academic is out. So the other roles available that unconsciously suit you may be class clown, troublemaker, blocker, etc. Other kids may resent the fact that you’re not there regularly, as they are. You haven’t really formed a connection with the teacher.
Though you’ve been absent often, it actually becomes harder to attend. So you think of reasons not to go. Like complaining a lot. Finding excuses to do other things. Begging your parents not to send you to that ‘awful’ place.
No surprise then, that declining attendance begets a further attendance drop.
I was totally overwhelmed with what students like this experience when they don’t attend Jewish education programs on a regular basis and the challenges they probably face as a result.
How can we use this information?
I know that as a teacher, I’ve often expressed frustration/guilt when my students did not attend regularly. It’s not that I was ever harsh, I just wanted them to know that I missed them and wanted them to be part of the class.
I’d change that now and say something a little different.
I’d make a real effort to show much more compassion for what they’re coping with, maybe privately even get a reference check about the unique challenges they must feel, and help ease their transition into the classroom world any way I could.
They’re dealing with enough.