Engaging Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

| April 18, 2016

On March 30th, Mr. Joseph Matthews led an insightful workshop entitled “Athletics vs Academics: Bridging the Gap Between Teachers Who Love School and Students Who Love Sports” as part of a series of workshops being held this semester at the Gottesman Libraries.  Mr. Matthews brings his experiences as a student from a disadvantaged background to his work as an educator, finding ways to engage students from similar backgrounds.  At the workshop, I got to hear some of his solutions.

Mr. Matthews’ main argument was that sports provide a strong opportunity to engage disadvantaged students and teach them skills that translate to the classroom. Hip hop has been considered to be THE most culturally relevant way to reach students, but Mr. Mathew’s research from his mentoring program quickly countered this point. He found an overwhelming shared interest of sports amongst his students: 145 out of 150 kids listed professional athlete as their dream job on a survey. Mr. Mathew’s interest in the opinion of his students and his ability to actually listen and act accordingly is refreshing.

Mr. Matthew’s insight into underprivileged student engagement was further demonstrated when he brought up  potentially difficult student teacher interactions. He shared the story of how his own athletic dreams were shot down by a teacher. Often the natural response to a disadvantaged student’s dream of joining the NFL is that it is so unlikely it’s almost not worth pursuing. It applies to other dreams too. I faced that reaction in response to my dreams of attending an Ivy League school while attending a Title I high school in Texas. My goal may have been different, but the common bond is that both dreams are a stretch for anyone. A well-intentioned teacher may voice the negative gut impulse in response to such dreams, but that message could spell disaster for a student’s motivation and confidence. Mr. Mathews provides a much more productive response, showing the valuable kind of insight he offers as an educator. His response is to encourage the student with the fact that professional athletes only account for 2% of all jobs in professional sports which illustrates how one can easily work in the sports field, even without being an athlete.

Mr. Mathew’s workshop was a great opportunity to pick up some tips on how to engage with minority students from disadvantaged background from an educator who lived the life. If you missed it, or even if you went, I highly recommend swinging by for his next workshop later this month. “You Can Not Teacher Me if I Do Not Trust You” will be held on Thursday, April 19, 2016 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM in room 306 of the Gottesman Libraries.