In his ted talk (which a great 12 minute listen), Rios gave a really personal heart felt example of why educators should view their students more optimistically as at-promise versus at-risk. While this wasn’t necessarily the premise of his talk, my question is why the labeling and grouping of students in the first place? I say all that to say, in my mind all students have promise and they also have various levels of opportunities, resources and preparedness (That topic can be several other posts). I get concerned when we, educators inside and outside of the classroom, box our students in groups in general. Regardless of whether the labels we give are optimistic or negative, I’m more interested in discussing the labeling practices.
For example, I spend a hefty amount of time looking at the persistence and academic performance of first-generation students. For the purposes of this post I am identifying first-generation students as students whose parents and/or guardians did not obtain a degree from a post-secondary institution. Many colleges and universities offer programs and resources for first-generation students. Moving beyond whether or not these programs are well designed, properly executed, and are reaching their desired population, several institutions see a need to provide additional support to a group of students who have demonstrated need.
I am absolutely 100% pro student support service for our students of various backgrounds. However, when I’m producing a report or working on a presentation I cringe a little every time I group students as first-generation and non-first generation or low-income and non-low income. I’ve been accused of oversimplifying things but our students are whole persons with varying characteristics and needs. I hate when I feel like I’m othering students. Majority and other. Ugh.
Honestly, I don’t necessarily oppose the term at-promise as much as I just dislike blatantly grouping students together and labeling them whether it’s a positive label or not. I’m much more interested in talking about the labels in general. I sit in these meetings where we talk about serving the whole student but are constantly putting them in these boxes and then trying to figure out who we can check off the box. I haven’t come up with an alternative yet, but I desperately hope to one day.