Teaching At-Risk Youth: Preparing our Educators

Maurice Elias, a professor at the Rutger’s Psychology department, reflects on the growing concerns involved with teaching at-risk youth and preparing teachers for urban schools. Of course, issues surrounding this topic have been discussed for years, along with potential solutions. He decided to look back at 50-year-old wisdom published by Lois Weiner, a professor and critic of public education. In his great new blog post on Edutopia, Elias argues that three things need to be emphasized by teachers in an urban school environment. First, social-emotional learning must be a component in these schools. Social-emotional learning is a process for learning life skills, including how to deal with oneself, building relationships with others, and working in an effective matter. The second emphasis deals with the matter of caring. Although it seems obvious that teachers must care for their students, Elias argues that at-risk and underserved youth possess greater needs to be cared for than other students. He says that “[teachers]are not prepared to deal with what seems like excessive amounts of neediness, disclosure of difficult person situations, and an almost boundless desire to be reassured and appreciated.” The last point he makes is that teachers must be prepared for discontinuity: the fact that the majority of these students are missing class for their own reasons and are not caught up on work.

Preparing teachers for these potential obstacles remain incredibly important today. Elias states that the increased emphasis on project-based learning helps to bridge the gap between underserved students and their peers. At Urban Gateways, we provide project-based learning within our artist residencies, and have achieved amazing results. Schools and teachers are always striving to make their classrooms, schools and communities better, and keeping these issues top of mind will help in achieving that goal.