"......For as long as he could remember, Jimmy had a hard time in school. For him, school was one disappointment after another. Although initial standardized test scores showed Jimmy had an aptitude for learning, his daily performance indicated otherwise. At school, Jimmy felt a whittling down and chipping away at his identity and self-esteem. He attended school, but he had given up. At-risk students like Jimmy come in all shapes and forms. They tend not to fit in at school. Some are withdrawn and quiet, and others are disruptive or rebellious. Academically, they often perform below their expected grade level (National Mentoring Partnership, 2007). Many are truant and come from homes with high mobility rates and lower socioeconomic status; some must work more than 20 hours each week to support their families (Hammond, Linton, Smink, & Drew, 2007). How can teachers support students like Jimmy? One clue is to examine the practices of teachers who are effective with such students. One of the authors, James Riegert (2009), interviewed, observed, and conducted a focus group with six high school teachers who were nominated by multiple colleagues and peers across 26 school districts in a midwestern U.S. city for their success in working with at-risk students. The teaching experience of these six teachers ranged from 10 to 35 years. Although these six teachers worked exclusively with at-risk students, mostly in alternative settings, they had much to say that could apply in a regular classroom. To create classrooms that engage all learners, these six teachers focused on five interrelated practices:
1. Create Bonds
A major part of teaching is building relationships. Teachers must intentionally establish and maintain bonds with students as students progress through their coursework. But at-risk students often are not easy to bond with. Many withdraw from their teachers or challenge teacher rules and expectations…...
2. Persevere Through Difficulties
When creating relationships with students, these teachers don't take no for an answer. They repeatedly and persistently exert the energy and strength necessary to create and sustain challenging relationships. They are determined, and they persevere. As Becky explained, "I do everything in my power to stay patient and hang on to kids……."
3. Differentiate and Be Flexible
As educators, we chose teaching because of our passion for students and our subject area. The challenge is to connect the curriculum with students' interests and passions. One way to begin is by selecting instructional strategies that respond to students' needs rather than beginning with strategies that are tied to curriculum (Tomlinson & Javius, 2012)……
4. Make Curriculum Relevant
The work of a teacher is to provide students with clear objectives, guidelines, and feedback and to support their next steps in growth (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2012). If that task is not complex enough, students, especially at-risk students, will want to understand how the material they are learning is relevant to their lives.....
5. Start Fresh Daily
All of these teachers provided their students with fresh starts every day. "Teachers need to look at these kids knowing that every day is a new day. You cannot … harbor anger toward them," said Bohdan. Donna stressed the need to suspend judgment and not jump to hasty conclusions: "You cannot be judgmental. You just cannot do it, because if you are, they won't take any chances with you...."