What to Do When Students Aren’t Even Getting Basic Needs

Sometimes I’m dumbfounded by my current high school student’s lack of ability to grasp some of the ideas of the French language I’m explaining to them in a number of ways, using a variety of “intelligences” (like what a subject and verb are, or a conjugated verb versus an infinitive).

And then I see their English! Kids these days!!

But the lack of prior quality education is very different than situations where students are not getting their basic needs met, thus interfering with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (well…is it? Sometimes the student’s inability to focus, take in information, and recall are blocked because of a lack of basic needs being met).

I have an interesting mix of rich, can-be-quite-snooty-at-times kids, and poor, “underprivileged” kids (don’t have a computer or internet at their house, and more serious things too), because the school district comprises a huge range of socioeconomic status. For example, when we were talking about houses and how many rooms each student has in their house, I had one student who lived in a trailer park (though, she was surprised that there were as many as five or six rooms within!), and another who had trouble counting and guessed it was definitely something over 20!

And then there’s this sweet, respectful young man who has  been going through a battle of guardianship due to a domestic violence situation (definitely lacking safety needs– he has not family security, and no protection). I had no idea that was going on all last marking period, and now I see why he wasn’t bringing in stuff, and had to often be reminded to stay on task and not get distracted chatting with other students. Not just some of the time. More like all the time. And I’m currently not even sure what to do. He barely passed last semester, and I’m having trouble getting him to do the work. But. I can be compassionate, and at the same time, still expect him to do work. I’m definitely being lenient enough to allow for him to pass if he puts in an effort.

But back to those needs. I know I would have a hard time coming to school if I were facing some of the challenges my students are. I have an even harder time thinking about teaching in an “inner-city school” because I know, as such an empathetic individual, I couldn’t get over the injustice of the lack of funds/supplies in school, and then even more difficult home conditions for students. (I imagine I would be dealing with more students who were facing a lack of both physiological and safety needs).

Maybe the “kids these days” statement actually does have something to do with it. I think times are tougher than ever in some ways. Recently, with the economy, a lot more parents have lost jobs, so that could be seriously changing the home situation. And, because of technology, there is less of an emphasis (and need) for the old skills, like, I don’t know, good penmanship? But there is always a use for learning how to speak and write correctly, which, lol, imho, I rotfl at some of what the kids say and write these days. Parents themselves may not have a good education and might not be able to help their son or daughter with their work- they may not care enough to either. (So, the social needs– belonging, friendship, and LOVE, are also in jeopardy in a lot of homes).

Families are rather diverse these days, with so many single/divorced/remarried parents, and the like. I was surprised to see how few of my students checked off “living with both parents”. Times have changed.

And, when I think about some people I know my age having kids, I get a little scared to think that they’re going to be raising youngins’ that will enter (or are entering) the school systems. Then again, it can go both ways. You could argue that with technology we are more equipped and have better lives. Some of us, anyway.

I’m kind of on and off topic here, and I’m just procrastinating my work right now to write about these thoughts I’ve been having, but  I think it’s worth saying something more about students’ needs.

How are kids these days ever going to reach “self-actualization” if they don’t have manipulatives and toys that use imagination and physical movement (vs. electronic) like we used to? How about if they have alcoholic, abusive, or absent parents who don’t even give them any toys or time? There should be a test to pass in order to have children!

And even for students who don’t come from “broken homes”, it seems there is a lack of needs being met emotionally and intellectually. I know there are some pros to the wonder-of-the-world-wide-web-we-weave, but it leaves less time for old fashioned values. Like familiy dinner, creative, higher-functioning thinking, and the beauty of readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rhythmatic, n’est-ce pas?!

How are students ever going to to “feel complete & valid in all aspects of self, to feel confident in being oneself” when they don’t have their needs met, and they don’t have good role models?

What do I bring to the table on this topic? My two cents are that creating a “safe classroom environment” is more important than ever (and another one of those great challenges). Perhaps we can help appropriately provide some of those “needs” for the child that aren’t being fulfilled in their home lives. To close- one of those touching teacher moments. When the boy I mentioned above (dealing with the abusive parent and custody battle) came into class one day after sharing that with me, he said aloud to himself as he came into class “I love French class”, and it just melted my heart. I hope I can give students hope for getting their needs met, and create experiences that help fulfill things higher on the scale than physiological and safety needs- the social and esteem needs.

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