Scaffolding and High Expectations

“We’re here, as teachers, to help repair your student’s relationship with learning so she can develop and grow into an adult with a healthy connection to herself and to the world around her.”

Educators talk a great deal about setting and maintaining high expectations in the classroom.  It’s how we make a difference in the lives of children.  We show them we believe in them, we ask them to rise to the challenge, and we celebrate them when they manage to take hold of that high bar.

Resistance to Success

However, educators in therapeutic schools are faced with a rising tide of resistance to the philosophy of high expectations.  A couple of common scenarios follow:

Parents, who are under pressure from friends and family to raise high-achieving kids who go to the best schools, pass that pressure on to their intelligent and capable children.  Those children, acknowledged for their talent, find themselves in more and more difficult and oppressive school environments, where they manage to maintain their grades by sacrificing sleep, friendships, and relationships with their families, while their parents, who dutifully acknowledge them for their academic success, forget to acknowledge their humanity and needs.  Impressive academic accomplishments are bought at the cost of their mental health, and soon, an apparently happy, functional teenager is in the hospital following a suicide attempt.

A student with high achieving siblings attends celebrations of siblings’ success, witnesses the well-earned praise they garner from families and friends and sees impressive careers opening up before them.  The student, who is intelligent and capable but has different priorities, can’t figure out why she can’t achieve at the same level as her siblings.  She gives it an effort and does pretty well, but because she simply doesn’t love math, or science, or literature, she can’t compete.  She constantly feels compared to her sibling—sometimes she only imagines it, and sometimes parents, meaning well, use the comparison in an attempt to encourage her—and she constantly feels inadequate.  Her best efforts fail her, and she turns to friendships, drugs, sexual relationships for solace.  She attends school less and less often as her sibling becomes more and more successful, and the achievement gap widens.

Both students, and many more with infinite variations on these themes, find themselves in therapeutic programs, where they are given an opportunity to face their beliefs about themselves and the world and make changes that will put them back on track toward a life of happiness and fulfillment.

Removing the Barriers

All too often, though, parents see their intelligent and capable students in a program where, as far as they can tell, all obstacles have been removed from success.  Classes are small, teachers have the time and mindset to provide exactly the support and attention each student needs to move forward.  Nonetheless, students often skip classes, perform poorly, attempt to do the work on their own when they need to ask for help and continue to earn poor grades.

Parents are understandably baffled.  They’re spending a great deal of money to get their kids the help they need.  Their kids are intelligent and capable, and deserve to go to a good school and have a good career, and at this rate…  Why aren’t the teachers doing anything?

The Entirely Frustrating Answer?

We are.  We are removing physical and external obstacles from student success.  We are building relationships with each and every student in order to earn their trust, not only for ourselves but often for the profession of teachers as a whole.  We are practicing patience with and support for students who choose not to attend classes, so they’ll know we’re here for them when they change their minds.  And a lot of the time, we’re waiting.  We’re waiting for the trauma work students do with their therapists to chip away at the wall and give the student a foothold to climb toward the bar we’ve set for them.

And we’re scaffolding.  Based on the relationships we build with students and the level of understanding they show, we’re constantly working to help your students fill in the gaps in their education, reduce and work through the impact of learning difficulties on their educational experience, and find a path to success that maximizes the effect of their strengths and bolsters their weaknesses.  We never lower the bar, but we can offer a step stool to make it a little easier to reach.  Over time, after your student has hours of practice and many successes to celebrate, we begin disassembling the scaffold.  Soon, your student, with newfound confidence, strengthened willpower, trust in healthy adults, and trust in herself, is in a position to succeed not only on our terms but on the world’s terms.

Though it’s difficult for a lot of parents to accept, we’re not here to save your student’s GPA.  We’re here, as teachers, to help repair your student’s relationship with learning so she can develop and grow into an adult with a healthy connection to herself and to the world around her.