I will be retiring from Heritage University at the end of the 2015-16 school year. I have taught for 40 years, about 30 of them at Heritage. For the majority of my career, I have taught at-risk students, many of whom are second-language learners and most of whom have not received optimal public school educations. This has given me the opportunity to both observe struggling students and to research the literature regarding at-risk students.
I have observed these things: most of our students are from the Yakima Valley, a high-poverty area. Nationally, children of poverty receive substandard educations, and this is true of our students. Subsequently, many struggle with reading, writing and arithmetic.
Many of our students are second-language learners. Research evidence overwhelmingly indicates that students entering school as non-native speakers should be introduced to reading and content material in their native language. But this didn't happen for many of our students, who began school in ESL classes which taught them English, but none of the rest of the skills they needed.
Additionally, many of our students have serious family, work and financial obligations to deal with. The needs of our students frequently differ from the needs of more traditional students. Teachers must explicitly teach vocabulary, reading strategies, study strategies, and critical thinking. It’s hard; it takes a lot of work on the part of both student and teacher.
The most important thing I have learned is this: if I were teaching at a university that attracted mostly middle class students, those students would still be middle class when I finished with them. Here virtually none of the students are middle class. College can make a difference in our students’ lives that can affect them and their families over generations. In my experience, the majority of our students face monumental challenges bravely and with determination in spite of the obstacles they face. I feel privileged to have worked with these students.
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