Successful Teachers of At-Risk Youth Emphasize Caring as Much as Curriculum 2010 AERA Presentation
May 3, 2010
Educators who successfully reach at-risk youth often use
different methods, but there are lessons to be learned from
similarities in their approaches, a University of California,
Davis, researcher will report Monday, May 3, at the 91st annual
meeting of the American Educational Research Association in
A three-year study of four community-based educators found that
all emphasized “connection before content” and demonstrated that
“caring is as important as curriculum,” Vajra Watson, a research
analyst in the UC Davis School of Education, will report.
Watson will deliver her presentation, “Risking Change: Portraits
of Four Community-Based Educators Successfully Reaching and
Teaching ‘High-Risk’ Youth,” at 2:15 p.m. in Korbel Ballroom 2 at
the Colorado Convention Center.
Watson, who conducted the study, identified qualities that
fostered success for each of the four educators and explored to
what extent these qualities could be employed by other teachers.
Among effective qualities the four shared, Watson cited a sense
that they are “called” to work with high-risk youth, the creation
of “genuine relationships” with students in a family-like
atmosphere and an emphasis on the importance of listening
non-judgmentally to youth.
“The key to all of the work is that adults must change the way we
interact with young people,” Watson said. “Young people in the
toughest neighborhoods are sometimes living amidst gunshots and,
while school is hopefully a safe haven, teachers are often
ill-equipped to act as a bridge between the streets and school.”
All four educators also focused on reciprocal and peer-to-peer
teaching that allowed students to participate in and influence
daily lessons. By allowing students to lead conversations and be
as much a teacher as a student, the educators helped the students
define positive, concrete goals, Watson said.
“One of the most important qualities was to ‘be real,’” she said.
“Teachers must dare to be vulnerable and to accept the
possibility of mutual learning.”
Finally, all of the educators maintained high expectations for
their students and taught them to break down, analyze and
understand those things in their lives that keep them from
“A young person who has witnessed violence and oppression might
be a rebel,” Watson said. “Teaching for social justice can help
the rebel without a cause to become a rebel with a cause. We just
have to find a way to help students recognize their own ability
to effect change.”