Thanks for Chucking That at the Wall Instead of Me: Teaching At-Risk Children and Youth.
Jeff Karabanow is an assistant professor in the Maritime School of
Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Monica Nawrocki has written a very personal and eloquent expose of working with at-risk school children. In a compelling narrative, the author provides us with an engaging and passionate glimpse of school culture and the ups and down of teaching at-risk students within the public school environment.
The main argument of the book is that these children, often labelled as “at-risk,” “problematic,” and/or “delinquent,” are best understood as young people masking (and dealing with) very troubled and chaotic past and present situations. These young people have continually been told, by diverse social institutions, that they are troubled, stupid, and bad—and with that, they have internalized and amplified such characteristics. The way to capture their imagination and attention is to dramatically change the playing field—providing positive messages and celebrating every success no matter how small or irrelevant. With humanistic prose, the author explores her own learning processes of working with and engaging such a population. We come away from the discussion with a sense that there is a great need to be able to truly listen to these young people, meet them at their own levels, believe in them, trust them, be honest with them, and, in essence, develop deep and lasting relationships of care, trust, and support. As such, being a teacher signifies more than imparting knowledge; it implies acting in the role of coach, enabler, supporter, and friend.
The book is complete with personal vignettes and case studies from the author’s own teaching experiences. The discussion is as much about understanding at-risk youth as it is about understanding oneself—delving into one’s own psyche—and realizing the intimate and complex relationships between teacher and student. Nawrocki provides helpful hints not only about building such significant relations with students, but also identifying and nurturing one’s own inner feelings, fears, and questions. This book compels teachers to remain spirited, hopeful, and kind to those who are struggling with educational systems. At the same time, it also celebrates teachers and implores them to be reflective and gentle with themselves.