Student Achievement: What Does It Matter?

Debbie Vaughn, vaughnd@k12tn.net

If I were asked to speak about the importance of student achievement for all students, first I would point out that I truly believe that all students have the potential for academic and personal success. Second, I would say that in order to bring out that potential, we must meet each student where he or she is. Finally, I would suggest that, if we are to help each student achieve excellence, we all must claim ownership of the educational process.

The students who are at risk, those who have barriers to learning, are my specialty. The English language is a major hurdle to their academic success, but certainly not the only one they face. My students have other issues as well. They are displaced from their heritage culture and language, walking a tightrope between two cultures, two worlds. Prior educational experiences might have been inadequate or, in some cases, nonexistent. It could be that the home environment for these poor children is not supportive of the learning process.

All at-risk students face barriers to learning. However, if we can find a motivation, a "hook," we can help students to achieve their individual best. Our mandate, then, as educators, is to find an avenue, a process that activates a curiosity and a desire to learn. When that happens, every person put in our charge will take away knowledge of themselves and their environment, and they will become achievers.

To be an effective teacher of all students, I must learn who my students are before I can show them who they can become. Ruby Payne, in "Children of Poverty," said, "Without a relationship, there is no learning." I agree. If I am to help children reach their learning potential, I must establish a relationship of trust with them, which must extend to their families. It is crucial that the families know me and have confidence in my ability to teach their child. For this to happen, I must become sensitive to and knowledgeable about the cultures of my students. Then, I can teach them how they learn and be a more effective educator.

The final piece to the teaching puzzle requires a commitment from the community. We all must participate in the educational process. From school to home to the entire community must be an unbroken chain, a unanimous buy-in to the effort of educating our children. Students say, "I don't have anybody to help me with my homework." Parents tell me, "My kid has been in that school for 2 years, and I have never met the principal!" Community members seem to feel that school is off- limits for neighborhood activities. When I speak to teachers, I hear the same thing over and over: "If I could just get _______'s parents involved in his/her education!"

Showing up every day at school and sitting in a desk for 7 hours should not be the only thing we ask of our children. Loading our kids up on the school bus and sending them off to school should not be our only responsibilities as parents. Paying taxes and coming to an occasional school board meeting should not be the only responsibilities of members of the community. And surely, a teacher's job should be more than lesson plans and grading papers!

I believe that personal excellence and self-esteem are the true benchmarks of a successful person. I want my students to be aware of and comfortable in the world around them, open to cultures and circumstances different than their own. My job is to help every student reach that place. Successful and productive adults are the result of inspired and motivated students, a family committed to involvement in the educational process, teachers who meet students where they are and take them where they need to go, and a community that values every stakeholder.

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