My 11-year-old mind was racing as I walked through the doors of my third school of the year.
I worried about whether my teacher would like me and if I would make a new friend. But as a transient student, my worries did not end there. Would I have what I needed in class? Would I be able to figure out lunch? Would anyone ask too many questions?
Growing up, I moved from home to home and from school to school 18 times. Now a teacher myself, I want to share what I know about how teachers can help students who attend multiple schools each year.
My mother did not want to move us as kids, but did the best she could with the hand she was dealt. Often, teachers would ask me why I moved. I never wanted to share that my mother was laid off and could not afford our apartment. The look of pity that would cover my teacher’s face was too much. So I would make something up or say I don’t know why I moved.
Like any other child, I just wanted to be normal, and talking about why we moved did not feel normal.
I now know that the transient families’ reasons for moving range from military service to efforts to escape horrific situations. So I’ve learned not to ask invasive questions about the reasons for a move. Instead, I ask questions like, “What would you like for me to know about you and your family?” Give the student time to get to know you and they will share more.
Moving homes was never easy for my family. When we would move, the last thing on our minds was school supplies. My mother’s priority list included food, shelter, and clothing for me and my sisters. That meant that many times, I would not have the supplies needed for a class.
I still remember the kind teachers who simply provided the supplies needed to participate and did not make a huge fuss over a pencil. They knew that a student’s lack of school supplies did not translate into what type of student they would be in their classroom. That’s why I suggest providing necessary supplies as a welcome gift to help your new students feel welcome and ready to learn.
Lunches were also difficult. Though I received free school lunch throughout my childhood, every school I attended handled meals differently. Some schools would let me know right away that I had a lunch card and how to use it. Others did not, and I was embarrassed about needing one. Instead of asking, I would go hungry. It was often a teacher who would notice and help me figure out the meal program, but not at every school.
To help students, schools can incorporate an introduction program that includes how meals are handled, for students who pay and those who don’t. Also, during the first few days of school, all new students should be allowed to eat for free until the paperwork can be completed.
As an adult, I love learning, but that was not always the case. Moving put a strain on my education and my ability to stay on the same level as my peers. Often the class I was taking at one school was not available at the next. During my sophomore year of high school, I took theatre arts course at one school, a home studies course at another, and ended the year in a communication course.
Transitions like that mean that students who recently moved may have trouble telling you who their last teacher was or what exactly they were learning. But this inability to provide details does not mean they do not care.
Try asking open-ended questions. What was your favorite subject? What made you enjoy it? What was the last topic you remembered learning? Short pre-assessments can help provide insight into a student’s current academic abilities as soon as they enter your classroom.
The teacher that would make a difference in my life came along in my junior year of high school. Mrs. Roach was was assigned to be my counselor, and she was determined to help me go to college and see me make something of myself.
She took the time to learn about me, my family, and our circumstances. She did not assume to understand or lay blame. She did take steps to help me feel like I could belong and succeed. You can do the same.
Meagan England is an instructional coach in Claiborne County, Tennessee and a doctoral candidate at Lincoln Memorial University. She previously served as a K-8 Reading Interventionist and a fifth and sixth grade ELA teacher. She co-founded the Empowering Tri-State Teacher Advisory Group to provide educators with professional development and leadership opportunities, and tweets at @oodlesofteach.