Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 16 2012

Summer School

In my summer school classes, we have students who just finished second grade who can’t add 8 + 6, who can’t tell the difference between a card that says “brain” and a card that says “lung” even when there are pictures that go with it, and, most upsettingly, who don’t know all the letters of the alphabet. We have students who just finished first grade who don’t know all their letters, and one who didn’t know that you read from left to right.

None of these students were retained. None of them were referred for Special Ed testing. None of them were even put in for the Student Assistance Team, which is the first step to being monitored in case they would benefit from being retained or tested.

Most people hearing this situation will immediately blame their teachers. Some might blame their parents. A few might blame the kids themselves (though let’s remember they’re 8). Except yesterday I got a little taste of how this situation might have arose.

I only had 9 kids in my classroom, which is nothing. But of those 9, one was a preschooler who literally cannot do anything on her own, two are still working on the most basic CVC reading and counting to 20, two can kind of manage a worksheet but can’t focus on it for more than 15 seconds at a time and aren’t particularly motivated to try, 3 are able to do their work at a normal speed, and 1 is super motivated and zips right through everything. Differentiation nightmare.

I have an assistant for summer school, so she took the two lowest kids, I took the 6 higher kids, and we let the preschooler color. But even with those 6 kids, it was really, really hard to keep the lowest kids motivated, the higher kids knowing what to do, and the superstar moving along. One kid wrote two sentences in the time it took others to write 6 sentences, and he only wrote those 2 because I was prompting him constantly. Another was OK as long as he had my full attention, but when I started helping someone else he yelled my name increasingly loudly to ask how to spell everything. Meanwhile, the girls are doing fine, but they do still need to be monitored and helped through tough bits.

We got very little done in this 45 minutes. To be fair, I think it would be easier if the kids were more comfortable with a routine, if they had more structure, if it wasn’t a chaotic summer situation. But still. It’s not an excuse, but I can see how, if you had all these students with this wide a range in one class (which, in our school, you might…come to think of it, I probably will next year) you could easily let the very lowest kids stumble along learning very little while you taught the bulk of the class.

It’s not right. It’s not fair. I would like to say I would never let that happen over the long term. But it happens all the time, and I can see how. There is no excuse for not referring these lowest kids for extra help and extra support; that is a matter of documenting and caring, neither of which are very hard. But as for boosting those kids and making sure they grow in a regular activity…teaching is really hard.

4 Responses

  1. The ability level in my Algebra 2 class ranges from not knowing how to multiply anything past the 2s (and being Limited English Proficient on top of that) to being able to handle simple Calculus problems after just a brief explanation from me. It’s been quite the experience. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in a similar situation but with little kids.

  2. meghank

    It’s possible that the students’ parents opposed the teacher’s recommendation of testing for special services for their children. That happened to me. My school administration told me that nothing can be done without the parent’s support. We also don’t retain students in Memphis City Schools. Finally, we have one special education teacher who has no assistant for a school of 330, and I really doubted that the child would get much help in special services anyway, as she requires one-on-one attention. I thought I probably could give her more help than that one overworked teacher could do in one hour a day, which by the way is often cancelled due to the IEP meetings and other meetings the special ed teacher must attend. Nevertheless she left first grade in much the same condition you’re describing. And I had a small class size last year. If you ask me, a full time assistant is needed in grades K-2, in every classroom, whether a child in that classroom is labelled special ed or not AND the class sizes need to be low (about 15).

    • eminnm

      Yes, the state of special ed is much the same in my school. It’s terrible. I guess my thinking in terms of at least getting the kid on the process to testing, even if the parents refused it, is that then there is a note in that kid’s file that alerts teachers that she will need more help. There are awesome people like you who are willing to put in the extra time without a documented reason to, just because it’s obvious she needs help. But I also know teachers who say, she doesn’t have an IEP, she doesn’t get services, why am I expected to do extra if no one has proved that she needs it? This is a terrible attitude. Especially in the upper grades and in middle school where a kid might not get as much individual attention, I think there is a benefit to having the documentation in place, even if the sped department isn’t going to do that much. For my kids’ IEPs, I pushed for all inclusion where possible. For those little kids K-2 it’s just so hard to keep them all on-task, especially if they struggle. Assistants would be great.

  3. G

    I wish I could have had assistants in 2nd grade…the majority of my class was on grade level, but there were several students that could have used extra help beyond differentiation. I also discovered that admins don’t like retentions because it makes the school “look bad.” It’s become a numbers game…and the kids that would benefit from retention end up being the losers.

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