Saturday, October 20, 2012

It Takes a Village

I have been very gratified by what I consider significant progress this week in some of my students.

Before the October break, I had two students in my "low" Grade 9 class who were refusing to take a test. One of them has Dyscalculia and was simply afraid to try and fail. The other came from a different school, where they had a very difficult time with math, and was afraid of showing the same weakness at the new school. Eventually, after a lot of coaxing and some stern-talking, the kids each sat down to take the test, and they did great!! What an amazing feeling it was for them and me, to get that positive feedback that despite their own tremendous self-doubts, understanding is possible for them. I wish I could take some credit for their success, but the truth is that all the credit goes to them being brave and really, really putting themselves out there by studying for hours for a short test. There is nothing scarier than giving something 100%, and both of them did that and earned the most well-deserved marks in return!!

Then, in Grade 7 I had one child who had done nothing since the beginning of the year, and was falling very behind. Despite my many chats with her, her efforts were minimal and in class she would spend 80 minutes sorting papers or fixing her pen. Outside of class, when I would work with her one-on-one, she would be great, but if there was even a single other kid there, she would stop working entirely. When I set her up with an older student as a tutor, she flaked out twice and the tutor simply gave up on her. Because I was extremely concerned, I had been chatting with the mom over email and in person, and eventually the mom had recommended me to reach out to her elementary school teacher, who had taught her two years ago with some level of success. I reached out to the teacher, talked to the kid, talked to other colleagues to get both the kid and myself out of class in order to meet the elementary teacher (who was only free during a time that we were not free), and we sat down for a three-way conference with the kid. After that, the kid has been a totally different person. She is motivated and progressing rapidly, quickly catching up to the rest of her peers (because she is in fact extremely bright, well above average in terms of her ability to grasp complex material). To encourage her to stay focused, the elementary teacher (who had taught her for 2 years in ES) has offered to support her on the more basic skills for a couple of months until she is completely caught up. I am amazed by my colleague's generosity, and so thankful by the difference it has made in this child to know that she is being looked after and cared for by all the adults in her life.

In the same Grade 7 class I have another child who cannot add or multiply. I reached out to his parents immediately when I discovered that he was having problems, and they said that because he is at a difficult age, we should get him an older boy to act as his mentor / tutor instead of expecting him to always come see me. I found an 11th-grader who has been working with him since, and in my 11th-grader I can see the future of a great math teacher. He is so patient with this kid. The first time he was supposed to meet the 7th-grader, the 7th-grader purposely bailed out on him and stood him up for 30 minutes. Instead of giving up, the 11th-grader dragged me around campus looking for the kid until we found him. This 11th-grade tutor called the kid's parents after the first session and said that the kid needs support at home to work on basic multiplication, and the parents received it well and have been actually doing timed drills with the kid at home. The boy is making slow but sure progress, and my amazing 11th-grader has the goal in mind that by the end of the year, this boy will be on grade level!

One small step at a time. I am trying to reach all kids, and sometimes it is just not possible to do it all myself. It is so gratifying to see when we all pitch in and it makes a difference for one kid. This week, I've been very humbled and thankful and thinking about the phrase that it takes a village to educate a single child.

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