How teachers can guide and help motivate at-risk students

Home life for at-risk teens is often far from inspired. Growing up without direction or mentorship, these troubled teens can walk a path toward failure paved in low-self esteem.

But with the proper support and encouragement, even the seemingly unmotivated can become optimistically resilient. Studies show the untapped potential of at-risk youth, stating that one-third of high-risk children will beat the odds and lead healthy, productive lives. As a teacher, you have what it takes to change a student’s path forward and perhaps even their family tree for generations to come


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  • practice persistence and establish trust
  • find role models
  • reduce anxiety
  • have an open door policy

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  • give up
  • sacrifice expectations
  • lose engagement
  • be inflexible

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do practice persistence and establish trust

No matter how much push-back you get, practice persistence with at-risk students. Allow them to realize that you’re not going anywhere. By fostering this respect and trust, students will feel an ease of tension in having a trusted source they can turn to. Keep in mind that trust needs to evolve naturally. Something as simple as knowing their names, interests, and backgrounds goes a long way in establishing an at-risk student’s trust.

Do find role models

Welcome reinforcements in the form of guest speakers to your class or school as often as possible. Community members who have turned their lives around, teens who have overcome tragic life experiences and risen above expectations, and even a former high school dropout who can speak to the benefits of staying in school would be great examples of success stories in their own community. By showing them these success stories, you will increase their level of hope and provide them with additional role models to look up to.

Do reduce anxiety

Motivation deficits often imply fear of failure and inadequacy. What appears as lazy and detached reflects a certain level of discomfort and perhaps anxiety over seemingly insurmountable pressures and expectations. Rather than using problem solving skills to work through unfavorable situations, at-risk students retaliate by shutting down, procrastinating or simply avoiding situations all together. When an at-risk teen shows signs of educational disconnect, hands-on interaction is imperative. Working with students one-on-one will help them to overcome their anxieties and fear of failures.

Do have an open door policy

Implement a true open door policy. This means beyond the typical school day and by appointment availability. Make yourself as available as possible to discuss problems and, more importantly, implement solutions.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not give up

Weary to foster relationships along their journey, at-risk students turn to resistance as a natural coping mechanism. They can come off as defensive, careless, and self-righteous, causing frustration for those willing to help. But giving up is not an option. At-risk youth are all too familiar with quitters, in turn making them further resistant to authority and guidance.

Do not sacrifice expectations

Teach students that it’s normal to find difficulty in some areas to reduce the sense of pressure and allow them to focus on achieving improvement rather than fearing failure. Continue setting attainable expectations and raise the bar by tracking success. Achieving milestones encourages forward action especially with matters of high difficulty.

Do not lose engagement

Led to believe they lack the competency and ability to succeed, at-risk youth are prone to educational disengagement. Re-engage them by showing the payoff of completing their education. You can do this by showing these students the how classroom content relates to them and the world around them. For example, gainful employment and job retention are often tremendous motivators. When they see a direct pathway between school and a better life, they are presented with an attainable goal and motivation to keep learning.

Do not be inflexible

Some students may find traditional forms of learning an impediment on their interests and ultimately, of little value to their lives. Suggest resources that better suit their skills, learning habits, and schedule. High school completion programs help students engage in flexible, self-paced programs that better fit their daily needs. Featuring career-focused courses rather than standardized lectures, students are presented with a clearer vision of their untapped potential.


Always remember, it’s your job to be the guiding light that leads students. Set goals, issue rewards, and never give up.

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