Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 13 2013

Not enough time…

He can multiply!


“He” in this case is my used-to-be-lowest kiddo, who has some serious (and documented) short term memory issues. Math is a terror for this kid because he doesn’t have the memory to remember…anything. Including his facts. That means if he’s doing, say, multiplication, he starts, then has to pause and make a table to figure out what 3 x 6 is, then when he finally figures it out 2 minutes later he comes back to his multiplication and can’t remember what he was doing. It’s difficult.

On the plus side, he is slowly absorbing all the skip counting songs we do all the time, and it’s helping him with the facts. He doesn’t know them, but now he can sing a song and find it in 10 seconds instead of 2 minutes, and that’s short enough that he still remembers what he was doing in the algorithm. Usually. After 4 weeks of long, hard work, he can multiply 3 different ways (standard algorithm, lattice, and area model) with about 70% accuracy. This is AWESOME compared to the 0% accuracy he had in pretty much everything at the beginning of the year. He’s also getting better at adding and subtracting as he starts to use Touch Math dots more consistently.

Here’s the sucky thing. This is how much progress he’s making with only some of the attention he needs.

Every day we have math and reading centers, which is my time to occupy my high and middle kiddos with independent things so I have time to work with my lower kiddos more individually. In reading this works OK.

In math, it’s another story. During math centers, my kiddo who needs a one-on-one assistant doesn’t have his assistant, because it’s his lunch break. The special education teacher comes into my room, ostensibly to fill this position, but she won’t work with him one-on-one, and I don’t really want her to because she upsets him. And when he’s upset he screams, scratches and kicks. No good for anyone.

So I work with him, which I like because it’s the only time in the day I get to work with him individually. But he needs 100% of my attention, pretty much. This leaves no attention for my other lower kiddos, who also need it.

I know what you’re thinking. Give the other kiddos to the SpEd teacher. Great idea, but I tried that and she either can’t or won’t explain things to them, so they end up bringing all their questions to me anyway. And then she wanders around watching kids do independent centers that THEY DON’T NEED HELP WITH. ‘Cause, you know, it’s INDEPENDENT. Very frustrating.

My solution thus far is to keep my absolute lowest and second-lowest kiddos with me, as well as my  one-on-one. The other low kids go do independent practice on things they mostly know how to do with the SpEd teacher, hoping they only need occasional help. I try to split my attention between my little guy and the two other kids, plus the questions coming from the other group. Then on Tuesdays I keep all the low kids who can stay after school (plus my lowest’s little sister, who also struggles) and try to split my attention between those 4 kids, all of whom need 75% of my attention at one time. It’s not perfect but it was OK.

Except I just got another kid. And he is lower than my lowest kid. And his mom introduced him as, “He has an emotional disorder. He’s getting counseling, but he will be disruptive.” So far he’s been an angel, and I haven’t pushed him too hard so he’s settling in OK, but I’m a little on eggshells waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now what the heck do I do?

This is actually the hardest part of teaching. It’s balancing the small amount of time you have with the enormous number of kids who need your time. There’s only so much time you can create, with afterschool tutoring and so on, and you never, never have enough time.

In a functional school, I’m pretty sure there are interventionists and specialists and, miraculously, special education services that are both existent and of good quality, none of which is true at my school. Also there are probably fewer kids who are so behind in the first place.

But this is where I work. And these are my kids. And honestly, I wouldn’t feel as useful working in a place I knew would be fine without me. So suck it up, stop complaining, and figure out what you’re gonna do about it. Right. Let’s do that.


4 Responses

  1. What a great post. Time is the the most precious thing teachers have to offer. I love your last comment “suck it up, stop complaining…”

    - Alan


  2. Time is one of the most important factor for that kid whom you have mentioned that he is a short term memory loss.

  3. Meghank

    Wow, you’re getting a lot more help than I got. I had children who clearly needed an assistant and they never once got one. My district should be sued for not providing needed special education services, but I guess no one’s willing to sue them.

    Well, just letting you know it could be a LOT worse.

    • eminnm

      Yeah, I wish someone would sue my district, because no one gets any services. The only reason this particular kid gets an assistant and services is because he has literally left scars on other teachers and students due to his behavior issues. The services are necessary for him to not explode, so he gets them. For my other kids, the services are necessary for them to not fail, but they won’t explode physically, so they don’t get them. SO ILLEGAL. But that’s life.

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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