Not enough time

I know teachers say that all the time, but I had my first real experience of that this week.

Monday during fifth period I ran into my first serious dilemma.  There are 3-4 students in that class who rarely attend class.  When they do, they’re unlikely to do any work.  Lately, though, they’ve started to change.  On Monday we did a task, and two of these students were both present and making a genuine effort at understanding the math.  The trouble is that they are so behind from years of poor attendance and effort that they seemed to require my full attention.  That would mean, though, that the rest of the class had to be effectively ignored.  That wasn’t really an option, either.  I finally settled for spending more time with these two students than anyone else, but I found that when I was not there to help them, they would not do any math.  This didn’t seem to be an attitude issue, but because they were just that lost.

What makes this such a dilemma for me is that I feel like the majority of the rest of the class could stand to work on their own for a day, maybe even two or three days.  For the most part, they’re getting the math and don’t really need my help.  The questions they want to ask me have more to do with easing their uncertainty by checking answers and methodology than in understanding what needs to be done.  These two students, on the other hand, are still struggling with basic arithmetic.

On the other hand, I know that even if I spent an entire week’s worth of classes helping these two students, they would still be way behind.  To really be successful, they would need to commit to come in for help before or after school or during advisory.  So far, this seems unlikely.  Just getting them to attend class probably counts as a success.  If they do work at all, that’s a major achievement.  Or am I setting the bar too low?

I just don’t know.

What I do know is that at least one of the students is willing to talk with me.  I spent a little time at the end of class talking with him about some of the choices he was making in terms of this class, and his responses, although hesitant at times, were very thoughtful.  He showed genuine concern for the success of his classmates.  Part of what prompted me to speak with him is that yesterday he chose to throw out his entire group quiz, rather than submit it with the rest of the group and risk hurting their score because of his lack of ability.  He would rather get a 0.  Through the course of our conversation he decided to give me his quiz so that I could look at the work he did get done, and spend some time thinking about how we could get him some credit for that.  Because he struggles so much with math, I feel that it’s especially important that the work he is able to do gets recognition.  Not in front of the class maybe (I think it’s a bit early for that), but between he and I.

Today I am hoping both students will be in class again.  We’re doing notes (direct instruction), rather than a class.  This can be less interesting for many students, but I think it would be a good opportunity for these two to strengthen the learning they’ve ben struggling to do over the last two weeks.

This is the kind of work I was hoping to find.  It’s something that I didn’t see much opportunity for in my previous school, and is part of what prompted me to request a transfer.  I just hope that the small success I’ve had leads to something more for these students.  It really saddens me to see people who are so young be so lost.

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1 Comment

  1. yuliasha said,

    November 17, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    This seem to be a dilemma for a lot of our students in almost all the classes, especially the support class. Every day I feel like I’m making Sophie’s choice, when picking who to work with, because no matter where I sit, there is at least several other students that don’t work, because I’m not sitting at their table. Some times I just run table to table, and it works for some of the students. The irony is that some of the brightest students are just not interested unless I’m right there standing on my head and juggling, just to get their attention. You know?..


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