Third segment of a three-part article
By William Madigan and Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino
The AVID elective teacher’s role is probably the most important facet of the AVID system. I (Madigan) have taught the AVID elective for over 18 years and the difference I have experienced from teaching a content class and being an AVID teacher is outlined below:
“For me, teaching in the “regular” subject classroom resulted in a narrow vision of what teaching can be at it’s best. As a beginning teacher, I declared that I had done all I could for a kid, and that ultimately a student’s success is dependent on the student engaging with the lessons that the teacher has created. I said many times: “I tried my best and worked hard at getting all kids involved; I can’t fix them all.” But I discovered as an AVID teacher that an extra step was required: to really, really try to figure out why Johnny or Mary is not making it. Instead of only being in front of class and delivering content, I realized as the AVID teacher, I must be behind the students figuring out with each of them, how to push and motivate them. I’ll never forget hearing Mario, a student in one of my first AVID classes, declare that he wanted to be a surgeon, but that he hated reading! Mario became a project of maintaining his dream AND convincing him that reading was not so bad. The AVID elective became a platform upon which I learned the deeper art and craft of motivating and inspiring.”
The AVID elective promotes growth not only in the students, but also within the teachers themselves. The AVID environment is rich, rewarding, and provides a brain-healthy environment for the instructors. The constant need to flex educators’ cognitive skills to motivate and foster understanding in their students, builds a thinking brain, rather than a brain that goes to “auto-pilot.” The ability to respond to the students questions with questions, provide a caring, socially accepting environment, problem solve, and reason with students, builds and enhances the instructors’ frontal networks. The reward of making a difference in the lives of students floods the instructors’ brains with dopamine, the “feel-good” neurochemical. Evidence from cognitive neuroscience shows that the brain that is engaged, continuously learning, and flexible is a healthy brain that may be more resilient to the common ailments of aging.
The importance of having a positive, supportive role model provides the student with a safety net of empowerment. Indeed, in a study that followed the resiliency of several students over a 30-year period, a major predictor of success was identified as a “caring adult.” Schools for these people were seen as powerful “buffers against adversity.” The researchers, Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, concluded,
“Most of all, self-esteem and self-efficacy were promoted through supportive relationships. The youngsters in our study had at least one person in their lives who accepted them unconditionally, regardless of temperamental idiosyncrasies, physical attractiveness, or intelligence.”
The role of the invested, caring AVID elective teacher, the power of the tutors and tutorial structure and the community created by the AVID elective class synthesize into a powerful promoter of psychological and physiological resiliency and intellectual growth. A significant part of AVID success is due to the stimulation and optimization of the students’ brain development at one of the most malleable times in life. The AVID classroom shapes neural flexibility, efficiency, and complexity, skills that will serve the students and teachers for a lifetime.