Mandated Students

judge 2They come because they have to.

Any of these people may have mandated students to your adult education class: the judge or their parole officer; their lawyer, hoping to make a good impression at a sentencing hearing; their social worker, financial aid worker, workers’ compensation officer, or other professional with the power to deny their request for benefits; parents who say if they want to live at home they have to go to school.

Unlike other students in your class, they are not self motivated; their motivation comes from someone outside the class, someone you have little influence on.

Often mandated students resent being in your class, and their resentment shows itself in a million ways. They come late, leave early, take long coffee breaks, sit near the door with their coats on, don’t participate, fall asleep, make snarky asides you can barely hear, challenge your ideas and your plans, and generally disrupt the safe, happy, purposeful atmosphere you try so hard to create.

Finally they drop out, and you don’t know whether to be relieved because they’re gone, or worried about your retention statistics.

My friend and colleague, Nora Randall, told me about a strategy she had developed for helping mandated students find some interior motivation for staying in class. She said she asked them to figure out something they could get out of the class just to spite those people who made them come!

She didn’t give me any details, but if I were doing it, I’d plan for something like this, with a group of students contributing to a list of answers for each question.

Why did the worker say you had to come to school? I’d encourage both positive and negative responses here. (He says I’ll get a lighter sentence. She has a hate on for me. He just likes to boss people around.)

What does the worker think you’ll get out of it? This question might generate a list that looks suspiciously like the goals of your program, but I’d keep quiet about that. The question gives students a chance to step out of their resentment for a moment and think from a different viewpoint.

In your first impressions of the class/program, do you see anything that might be useful in your personal life?  Perhaps such things as access to computers or a chance to get out of the house every day might be mentioned.

Looking at the lists we made for questions 2 and 3, above, is there something that you could get out of the course for just yourself, that would be outside what your worker thinks you are getting? I’m not sure if I’d ask people to give their answers to this question in the group, or if I’d ask them to keep it as a secret motivation. I’ll have to go back to Nora to see what she did.

One thought on “Mandated Students

  1. We don’t get many such students, but have had a few. I like your ideas and will try them next time we do. Unfortunately, the last one we had ended up in a lot more trouble after she left us (in spite of finishing her time there without incident). It makes you wonder if you’ve done any good at all.

love to hear your ideas or experiences!

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