Ryan Steuer, Decautur Middle School

Ryan Steuer is currently a part of Apex, a New Tech project-based learning community in Decatur Middle School in Indianapolis. Ryan has been teaching 8th grade for eight years and has developed a passion for service learning because he feels it puts learners in real world situations.

Ryan Steur working with his students

I teach because the news is depressing. When you turn on the news or read the paper, you see crime, murder, and poverty running unchecked. For every triple homicide, suicide or theft in the news, some young person you don’t hear about is directly affected by it.

The young man who was gunned down on the east side? That was Jimmy’s cousin.

That veteran with PTSD who went a little nuts last week?  He’s Alice’s older brother.

Oh, and that crazy woman who went to jail for stabbing her husband?  Well, that means that Tricia now lives with her grandmother, the one who drinks heavily.

But the world doesn’t really care about what is going on, and so we expect Jimmy, Alice and Tricia, all of them just 14, to pay attention to their teachers, do well on standardized tests, graduate, get jobs and raise families. Not likely, not unless we offer help.

 Jimmy, Alice and Tricia are why I teach. If I don’t help them to see that there is more to life than what they are experiencing right now, then who will? Are they expected to make it on their own with little or no guidance? Would an adult recover well from these experiences? Instead of wondering why they act out in class, we should be marvelling that they make it through the day. Kids are strong and passionate, but they sometimes need to be reminded (or convinced) that they have strength, and they need to know where to direct their passion. That is why I teach.

So how do you teach kids like Jimmy, Alice and Tricia while you also have another 100 kids with their own varying baggage? I saw a T-shirt once that said “Helping kids isn’t rocket science. It is much more difficult and much more important.” The t-shirt has it right: teaching is more difficult, but, while good teaching is not easy, it is simple in one important way.  You must treat all children the same!  Not “all the same” as a cog in a machine, sit in a row and do this worksheet “all the same.” To me, “all the same” means seeing the uniqueness and infinite potential of each learner, whether they are a hot mess or appear to have it all together. Because ultimately, everyone needs to know they have strength, and everyone wants to work in their passion.

How do you change the depressing news? You go to the generation that is coming up and is unwillingly subjected to the negativity, and you lift them up. How do you find out what Jimmy, Alice, Tricia and every other youngster has going on that they don’t talk to anybody about? You show them you care and then you listen. Pretty simple.

After all, it’s not rocket science.

One Response to “Ryan Steuer, Decautur Middle School”

  1. Denise Smith 16. May, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    Great job, Ryan! Our small group from church has several current teachers/former teachers/ school administrators in it, and we have been discussing this very topic. One of the current teachers was struggling because he had chosen to do mentoring as his “extracurricular” activity and one of his 15-yr. old students committed suicide a few weeks ago. No one saw it coming, and he was despairing of making any difference at all for any of his mentees. It reminds me of the story of the man who walked the beach every morning, picking up starfish that had washed ashore and throwing them back in the water. An observer asked him why he bothered, since he could not possibly make a difference for all the starfish on the beach. Picking up a starfish and throwing it back in the water, the man answered, “Well, I just made a difference for that one!” You and other equally caring teachers and adults can make a huge impact on students. You may not reach them all, but you can make a difference for a few!

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