– Excerpts from an interview with Mark Schroeder, Educational Assistant (February 18, 2015)
DAN: Mark, let’s talk a little bit about prevention. It’s one of the foundational fibers of Quakerdale. What does it mean? What are some examples you can give us of why prevention is important?
Mark: Maybe school wasn’t the best thing for a student. They had struggles in school. It could have been socially, or with a specific subject like math. They struggled to the point where they became scared to death to show up for school or their math class. So now the student won’t open up. That’s easy to see in here because with the programs we use I can tell exactly how many minutes somebody’s in something. I can see how many assignments they do. Our dorm leader does a wonderful job of pacing the work load. So we can follow right along. I think it’s easy now to see as soon as somebody’s collapsing. When that happens we ask, “Okay, what can we do? How can we step in?” Because if they keep adding on to failures, all of a sudden they just shut down. And we don’t want that to happen.
Sometimes we are able to use volunteers to help with our work load. For example, Christine is a math major. I can rely on her to help when we get so deep into a geometry problem that it’s going to take me a couple of days working on a solution. While she’s doing that, I can get right back to the student and we keep going.
I think that the hardest thing for students is when things are going well and moving right along, and then they hit a wall. What’s the easiest thing for them to do? Just put it away and shutdown. We want to keep them going. That’s what helps get them to the end of the semester, and to keep the good grades going. Then they see the results:
I had a conversation with a student:
STUDENT: “I never got C’s before.”
I asked: “Is that good or bad?”
STUDENT: “No, you don’t understand, I’ve never gotten good grades before.”
I was able to say “Okay, that’s great. Now let’s go for B’s.”
Now we can add on to successes instead of just dealing with issues and problems.
I think this helps all the way around. I think it helps at home. I think it helps with something as simple as when an issue arises at supper. How do we deal with it? Instead of falling back, they move forward. Let’s look at the positives. It sounds simple. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s a big challenge, and it takes all of us to help. That’s where I enjoy this more than anything. Because I could just sit here and just push them through. That’s easy to do. But I don’t. I want to make sure they know the process.
For example, I asked a student:
“Did you just look that up online? Let’s ask a couple more questions?”
STUDENT: “Oh, okay, yeah.”
Or another situation:
STUDENT: “This is a science experiment I did.”
I try to say, “Well, what would happen if we change this, or this, or this?”
So now we’re adding to, instead of just letting them coast along. We try to look at the past, identify some of the mistakes, and build on how we can fix it before they graduate and leave here. That’s what my goal is, just to build better men, to get them out of the rut they were in.
If we talk about the cattle program, here’s an example of the type of conversation we might have with them when we first started working with the cattle:
STUDENT: “Oh, I’ve worked with cattle forever. I’ve done this forever.”
I say: “Okay, well, I’m going to tell you right now, the old sign on the wall says, ‘can you run faster than the 15, because the mama cow runs 16.’ So don’t go running.”
We talk about different things. We talk about how important it is to know the setting. Why is this one doing this? Is there something wrong? What can we do to help?
We were working the cattle one day and we couldn’t get one into the chute; just couldn’t do it. We found out that on the corner post where we were trying to get them to go, someone had taken their gloves off and sat them up on top of the post. Every time the cow came around the corner, that’s the first thing she saw and it startled her. My concern was I don’t want the boys getting hurt. As soon as we found the gloves, and took them down, she walked right in. So it’s teaching them something simple.
But yet if we don’t do it right it could lead to a big mistake and somebody getting hurt. We want good experiences. And that’s how I look at a lot of things. What can we do when we have a bad experience to learn from it? What did we do that we could have done just a little bit different?
And in the classroom, that’s big. That’s really big. A student turned in their assignment and didn’t really hit anything. So instead of giving them a zero, we talk about it. Did you not understand the question? It could be,
STUDENT: “Well I was frustrated because I couldn’t find it. So I just decided this is good enough and turned it in.”
“Well, okay. I get there too. But, let’s look at it this way. How could we reword the question to find what we need?”
STUDENT: “Oh, okay.”
So, am I a normal teacher? Some days yes. Am I far from normal some days? Yes. But it’s just to get out of the kids what I know is there. I know that it’s there, because I can see it. Sometimes they’ll come in and give me this big tough guy image that they don’t need school. I just nod my head and we get to work.
DAN: Mark, thanks so much for your time. And thank you for all that you’re doing for these kids. Most of the rewards for your work you’ll probably never see. We’ve got to trust that God will use them down the line. But I do think it’s rewarding to be a part of something where you’re making a difference in people’s lives.