Their Hopes and Dreams Forever Changed Mine

A few weeks ago, Mr. Payne and I began to see a disconnect between a great deal of our students and ourselves. We both work hard to form relationships with every child and for the most part are very successful at the relationship piece. However, when we tried to talk to them about the future and college we were met with resistance each time especially with our students who are English Language Learners. As we talked to them about why they thought college wasn’t an option for them a heartbreaking misconception surfaced. Our students basically look at us as upper class “white people” and themselves as “lower class”. We kept talking with them and trying to flush out their thoughts to understand where the disconnect was. Over and over again the kids were basically telling us that we were successful and that they never would be. This was a startling revelation for both of us and we decided we had to do something to flip their view points.

On a whim one day I remembered that I had read an article about how the most powerful question you can ask students who are socio-economically disadvantaged is “what are your hopes and dreams?”. Last Thursday morning Mr. Payne and I stepped away from the content a while, shut our classroom door, and had a long talk with the faces looking back at us. I can’t tell you everything that we said or they said because I promised them that what happened in the room that day would remain confidential. We spent the next half our telling the kids more about ourselves, about how we were both first generation college students and about our own childhood circumstances. We worked to really convey to them that we didn’t always have it easy either but in the words of Kid President, we got a goal and we got a dream and then we got to work. The kids shared some of their own stories and circumstances and did a lot of nodding and agreeing as other people shared theirs. It was one of those magical classroom moments that I won’t forget.

To follow-up we gave each student an index card and asked them to write down their hopes and dreams. They quickly got to work and wrote more than this group of students ever does as they filled out their card. We assured them that no one would see them except us unless they gave us permission and promised that we would do everything in our power to help them achieve whatever dreams they wrote down. After the kids left Joe and I spent some time tearfully reading their responses and were amazed at what we found. These kids, the kids who fail every class, the kids who are behavior problems, the kids who don’t seem to care about anything have some amazing hopes and dreams. Flipping through those cards, what really jumped out at me first was that every goal was attainable. However the second thing that caught my attention was the fact that more than anything these kids just want to help others. They want to be police officers, teachers, and military personnel. They want better lives and to help their families but most importantly the undertone of them all was that they just want to have hope. Hope for a future and hope for a better life than what they have now.

I asked special permission to share this card on my blog. This student is the epitome of the kid teachers talk about as being “hopeless”. He doesn’t seem to care about school, never does his homework, rarely pays attention to what I am saying, and is hard to find meaningful consequences and incentives for. He is an english language learner and struggles with reading and writing tremendously. He is the kind of kid who most would think just doesn’t care but his hopes and dreams tell a different story. He cares a lot just not about all of the same things we do.

This entire process changed my life in a lot of ways.  It made me realize that no matter how much I try to build relationships with my students that there will always be parts of their lives I can never understand.  It made me realize that no matter how disengaged or uninterested a students seems they still have hopes and dreams but they may be different and much more selfless than mine could ever be.  Most importantly, these kids and their dreams changed mine.  I now dream of being an even more effective teacher, of pushing myself and these kids further than anyone ever believed possible, of helping every one of them achieve their goals.  After all, they changed my dreams now it is time for me to help them achieve theirs.

Here is a great summary of their dreams.  I can’t wait to see them come true.

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