6 Ways Teachers Can Help the Outcasts

Egbert – the mischievous badger who loves a good adventure

I have a 7 month old niece with whom I spend a lot of time, so Sprout TV (owned by PBS) has become a significant part of my life. One of my favorite shows is Poppy Cat. Poppy Cat (a calico kitty) has a group of friends that include an owl, a dog, a bunny, and a mouse. They go off on these great adventures and sometimes learn a little something about life in the process. Poppy Cat and her friends are great, but I love this show because of Egbert.

Egbert usually plays the “villain” in Poppy Cat’s adventures. I love watching him because he’s that kid who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. He’s probably a very sweet boy, but he just doesn’t quite fit in. So when Poppy Cat asks if he wants to join in on their adventures, he always declines. But he still wants to play and use his imagination, so he basically crashes the adventure party.

I have a special place in my heart for kids who don’t quite fit in.

Alexandra Robbins takes an adventure that is both personal and intellectual as she finds support for quirk theory in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

“Quirk Theory: Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.”

In the book, she follows high school students (and a teacher) in different parts of the country throughout the school year. They are each part of the “cafeteria fringe,” as she calls it. They, like Egbert, don’t quite fit in. She writes that she hopes parents and educators can use the information in the book to learn about the kids who live on the fringes of their high school society. And she hopes that the stories can give some hope to current members of the cafeteria fringe, so that have concrete proof that things do, indeed, get better.

I don’t know if Robbins knows anything about Poppy Cat and Egbert, but I have a sneaking suspicion she would agree with me that Egbert may be mischievous and socially awkward now but has the potential to be a CEO or politician.

As a former member of the cafeteria fringe and an educator, I think Robbins’ message is a wonderful one. Her book inspired me to share some ways in which teachers can help the outcasts in their schools.

Talk to the quiet kids.

I’ve been in front of a classroom of 30-something kids. So, I know it’s easy to concentrate on building a relationship with the kid who shouts, the kid who throws things, the kid who decides to paint her nails during a vocabulary lesson. They push themselves to the forefront of your mind and therefore get most of the attention. But the quiet kids need attention too.

Make an effort to ask them about their day or write a positive note on an assignment they completed well. If it won’t cause too much trouble, make things a little easier on yourself and put kids who demand attention in groups with kids who don’t. Having them in the same vicinity may make it easier for you to spread the love.

Keep an eye out for warning signs that a kid is in trouble.

You see your students several times a week, maybe even for several hours each day. You may notice if a child has gained or lost a lot of weight recently. If a student appears visibly upset or has shown a significant drop in academic performance, step in and ask what’s going on. If the student won’t talk to you, try to make sure they have someone to talk to by directing them to someone else (another teacher, the principal, a guidance counselor) who they can trust.

Take note of cafeteria structure.

Some schools require that teachers monitor the cafeteria during lunch periods. On your lunch duty day, take note of who is sitting with whom. What kids are sitting alone? Where are the popular kids? The jocks? The gamers? The goths? And make a note when these things shift. If the number of kids at the popular table suddenly drops in half, there may be some social turmoil going on that can spill over into your classroom. The cafeteria can also tell you where tensions are between groups which can help inform you about tensions you notice in your classroom during group activities.

Encourage the odd passions.

Our society tends to throw support behind mainstream interests. Sports are a big example of this, but your “mainstream” clubs and activities may differ depending on your school’s culture. If you find out a student has an odd passion, do what you can to encourage it. For a student who wants to design video games, an English teacher could encourage that student to use a video game idea as the subject for a creative writing assignment. Just showing interest in something a student loves can really boost their confidence.

Don’t let bullying go unanswered.

If you notice a student is being bullied, do something. Talk to the bully. Talk to the victim. Talk to parents. You’re in a position to help improve the situation before things get out of hand.

In order to help fight a bullying problem, you have to know about bullying. The infographic below gives some helpful information.

Celebrate your students’ differences.

Every student has the potential to bring something good to your classroom. Celebrate the ways your students are different by occasionally highlighting some of these positive differences. It may not be wise to call a student out in front of the class depending on the dynamics at your school and in your classroom. But you could call home and praise a student for how they offer different perspectives in class or how their diligence really shows even if they aren’t getting straight A’s.

Teachers are overworked (and in my opinion, underpaid). I get that. Believe me, I do. You don’t have time to be best buds with all 60 of your students. You can’t be an advisor to 15 student clubs. I’m not asking you to. Do what you feel you can do and get some of the other teachers in your school to cooperate. If everyone is looking out for bullies and helping support the cafeteria fringe, you can really make a difference in kids lives.

Photo Credit: the Villains Wiki


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Report Card Time! What to Do With Your Child’s Report Card

report card
Don’t glance at it and toss it away. Report cards are full of handy information!

For some, report card day comes with a feeling of trepidation…a nagging sense of impending doom. For others, it’s a glorious day, a day to celebrate with cake and ice cream. Whatever kinds of emotions come up for your and your child on report card day, it is an important day.


I’ve already talked about why your child’s data is important and how you can keep track of grades, progress reports, and other forms of data. Report cards are the culmination of months of hard work. They show you where your child stands in school. Report card day can be incredibly emotional for both children and parents, so I encourage you to take a step back from the emotion and try to look at it with some objectivity.


Things you should do with every report card:


1. Pick out the positives. Even if your child isn’t doing well academically, in the early years of school, report cards will oftentimes put behavior grades as well. If your child isn’t doing well in math but the teacher notes that she plays well with others, play that up! Show your child the ways in which she is competent in school and she will be motivated to do better.


2. Make a note of any major changes. If your child went down a full letter grade in a subject, it might be cause for concern. But don’t panic just yet! Ask your child a couple nonthreatening questions about what might have caused the dip. Think back to when you were in school. Chemistry may have been a breeze first semester but killer second semester. Your child may be having issues with friends or had a long-term substitute for part of the semester. Play a little detective and determine the cause of the change.


3. See if there are any trends. If your child is consistently struggling in math, it may be time for you to step in and get some extra help. Or alternatively, if she’s blowing English out of the water, you may have a budding literary genius on your hands! You can do things on the weekends to encourage that interest or talent.


4. Read everything. It can be tempting to skim over your child’s report card, especially if you have more than one child, and check out the grades in key subjects. But you might be missing out on valuable information if you don’t pay attention to the other parts. Remember those behavior grades that I mentioned? They can tell you if your child is having trouble socializing, hates to share, is becoming a bully, or is being bullied. Each of these can turn into massive problems later on if they’re not caught and addressed early. Every inch of the report card matters.


5. Create a follow up plan. This plan doesn’t need to be heavy or truly detailed. If your child came home with great grades or improved in an area you both were really working on, your plan could be simply to celebrate and continue doing what you’ve ben doing. Or you may need to hire a tutor or academic coach for your child. If you’ve been tracking your child’s data and something doesn’t quite add up, don’t hesitate to set up a time to chat with your teacher and go over anything that doesn’t make sense to you.


Report cards don’t have to be stressful. These strategies, with the exception of the last one, require you to look at the paper objectively and do a quick analysis. If you take a couple deep breaths and approach them with a positive attitude (regardless of what letters you see), you and your child will be in a much better place to tackle the academic obstacles ahead.


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