Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 29 2012

Tough situation.

I am lucky to have the best kids ever. My kids are, barring a few incidents this week from my boys who can be forgiven because they are exploding with too much testing, fantastically well-behaved. Also, they work hard. At the beginning of the year I had 4 “intensive” students, meaning students who read 60 words per minute or below. All 4 read at 30 wpm or below. Now, all of them have improved their comprehension and decoding and read in the mid-60s or above, which, although not on-level for a 4th grader, is the difference between not being able to read anything and being able to struggle through a lot of stuff.

One of my kids has dragged herself completely out of the intensive group into the solid middle of the class, is one of my best inferrers, and is earning Proficient grades in both Math and Reading. This girl used to burst into tears when I put a piece of paper in front of her (not exaggerating) and now she has decided she likes school. She rocks my socks.

One of my lowest boys has the best attitude I have ever seen and comes in every day ready to try 110% on stuff that is hard, boring, and repetitive. This kid is my hero. And even though his reading fluency is low (he has a learning disability that is making decoding really hard for him), his comprehension has soared this year. He is still a struggling reader, but he UNDERSTANDS most of what he reads now.

The lowest student in my class was reading at a preprimer (that’s kindergarten) level at the beginning of the year, in August. In January (when last tested), she was reading at a solidly first grade level. And while I know that first grade is not where you want to be at the age of 11, this still means that she grew 2 years of reading growth in a little more than half a year. I’m hoping she’ll be past 2nd grade by the end of the year.

So my lowest kids have grown this year. Of course, I always wish they improved more, but I am prepared to celebrate the growth they have made this year. They have worked their tails off, and between their fabulous attitudes, the awesome work of my mentor teacher (who does 30 min of intensive reading work with all the lowest 4th graders every day), and my flailing attempts to emulate her teaching style, they’ve come a long way.

Across the hall, my friend is not having the same experience. And it’s not her fault. She doesn’t have a small group of 3-4 hard-working but struggling kids. She has a group of 7 eleven- and twelve-year-olds who refuse to pick their heads up off the table (again, not exaggerating). Three of them are my basketball players, and their self-esteem is so shot that behavior management and consequences make them shut down entirely. But how in the heck can you teach them if they refuse to read? Refuse to participate? Every single one of those kids needs one-on-one attention, but she has 23 kids. Plus, there’s not a lot you can do with the whole class in any subject that doesn’t involve at least rudimentary reading, and 5 of these 7 really cannot read it.  One of them, who is my unofficial favorite, will read with me if no one else is around, but he gets so frustrated he’s crying after 2 paragraphs (which almost makes me cry…God, I love that kid). But if any other students are around, he goofs off or declares, “I can’t read this because I’m stupid,” because, you know, if he says it first, then no one else can. Inside, he thinks he’s worthless, so outside, he won’t do anything for fear of proving himself right. All you teacher types out there, I’m seriously asking, because I may be in this spot next year and I have no idea: what do you do with this situation? How do you help them learn?

One Response

  1. Stasia

    I’ve only been really teaching for about a year or two, but it seems like learning is couched in relationship – so if the kids can sense that you care about them whether they learn or not, it kind of frees them to try…also, if there’s a ‘why’, anyone can find a ‘how’.

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