Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 26 2013


This year is kind of interesting because I think I have a larger group of truly gifted students than I have in past years. For instance, I have students who in one week have learned how to multiply two-digit numbers by two-digit numbers perfectly, using three different methods (which, if you don’t remember 4th grade, is HARD!). I have a group of 5 girls who are reading James and the Giant Peach independently, discussing it, and understanding it, totally on their own. I have kids who, in a month, have learned a new system of analyzing word problems; they have gone from unable to solve them without relying entirely on key words (i.e. left = subtract, no thinking required) to drawing pictures and models showing situations, and then choosing an operation based on what that operation means, not what key words signal it. I have some wicked smart kiddos.

I also have one student who can’t count by twos. I have one student who cannot spell the word “did” reliably (and not just because he mixes bs and ds, though I have 5 students who do that). I have one student whose vocabulary is so low he keeps asking me things like, “What does equation mean?” or “What’s a stamp?” And this isn’t even counting my little guy who is cognitively impaired, who is working on telling the difference between plus and minus.

I guess what I’m saying is that I have a really wide range this year. This is a bit difficult because it means making 3 different lessons and homework pages each day, because this group needs harder work, this group needs more practice at the same level, and this group can’t practice today’s lesson because they spent today’s lesson staring at the ceiling, so they need to practice yesterday’s lesson again.

It also means enduring the annoyances of my co-teachers asking things like, “Why are you making more work for yourself when the curriculum already has homework in it?” Well, if that homework were appropriate for all my kids I’d use it! But I don’t want to teach my high kids to slack off or my low kids to give up, so I’m making them something different.

It’s also difficult for class culture. We’ve had lots of conversations about how everyone learns differently, how “fair” doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing, it means everyone gets what they need. We’ve talked about the dangers of saying something is “so easy” and crushing the spirit of your classmate who is struggling with that same problem. We’re getting there, but slowly. It helps that some of my most verbal kids are also the most sensitive, and they can parrot my empathy training back to one another.

One thing I love, though, is the joy we have (OK, mostly I have) for ALL our successes. Amanda used the word “potential” in casual conversation the other day. Milo got through a whole day without losing all his good behavior tokens. Phillip, after two weeks of solid hard work, has mastered the area model of multiplication. Josiah did 4 addition and subtraction problems all by himself. All of these battles were long-fought and hard-won, and all were solid achievements.

And I, like a dork, got all choked up for every single one of them.

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