So The Langster offered an example of why she wants to change/what is happening right now in her classroom with her people. I feel I should do the same.
Picture a 17 year old latino male who prides himself on being tough and awesome. Let’s call him N. And today, in my class, N cried. And every time I think about him/the class/his situation later, I cry. I should probably provide some background.
N has an IEP and his accommodations are around a communication disorder. He has difficulty decoding text but is able to comprehend high level text of a variety of forms once the background information has been orally communicated. He holds a large amount of number sense and is able to look at previous work and with prompting can push his thinking. He is constantly singing (old school and new school stuff) and dancing. He honestly will tell you he needs a break and when he just wants to move around. He became an uncle two months ago and is quite proud that he is able to help his sister. But, well, it has been quite difficult for N to arrive to school before 10am (even before the newborn) – so he has “self-directed interrupted schooling.” But, he comes to school nearly daily just really late (as compared to our 7:45am start time).
N is repeating ninth grade courses and Algebra 1 with me. While last year he made little progress towards the content objectives of Algebra 1, we worked on appropriate scholarly behaviors, like asking for brain brakes, asking for chunks of text to be read to, or asking for and using sentence starters in writing. He failed the for the year in Algebra 1 and all of his other courses.
This year, well, N has been able to concentrate on concentrate on content objectives, like calculating and using slope, identifying key information necessary to solve, or solving multistep equations. He holds a stronger mastery of how to ask for help appropriately and is able to look at his own work so he is able to move towards mastery of the content objectives. And, boy, is he moving towards mastery. While I see him roughly 60% of the time due to attendance early in the day, he is earning the highest achievement grades in that section. He is able to look at his own work, reflect on his progress based on criteria for success and objectives, and communicate what he thinks he should do next. N makes progress and mets content goals. He is able to demonstrate mastery of the content objectives. For term 1 and term 2, he earned a C- and B+ respectfully. He is on track to pass Algebra and meet his IEP goals. For this term he is earning a B.
Now think about Exhibitions. In Algebra 1, we have students think deeply about a social issue and use linear regression to model and predict various things. (We’ll talk about this project in future posts…promise.) But N has been avoiding this project. Last year, he started on the project but didn’t present it. A lovely senior at my school has been an AWESOME community leader and has come to class to help with Exhibitions. She somehow has awesome abilities to already know how to accommodate and act as a super positive role model (and says things like “just try and I will help you” and “you are able to do this; you just need to think about the small steps and not overwhelm yourself”).
Yesterday N had a tough day and didn’t make much progress with the exhibition project. Today, my resident, my lovely senior volunteer, and I were determined to have N make more progress towards the end goals of this project. We all had our roles and N made much progress! Huzzah! My lovely senior volunteer gave the community (mostly N) 30 minutes of work and left to eat her lunch and work on her own exhibition. I sat with N to reflect on his work and think about his next steps (like continue to make a graph).
He had NONE OF IT. I mean, I am not a miracle worker but I am typically able to have students think it was a good idea to do work. Had my lovely senior volunteer taken away my magical powers? Would N now only work for the lovely senior volunteer? So we chatted as I redirected 6 other needy students.
N told me he refused to do any more of the project because he had done enough and that he’d just do the rest of the project next year. I acted confused; “how will you do it next year if you are on track to pass the year of math?” I asked. At this point, N held his head in his hands and cried. He cried. Tears. A student who is the big tough guy had tears streaming down his face. He quickly covered his face and I distracted the other children with my weird socks and some really bad puns. I asked why he was upset about making progress and being ready for geometry. He said eight words that will stick with me for a while: “I don’t want to move on to Geometry.” I though quickly and took a stab in the dark of how to respond “Well, don’t worry – even when you pass Algebra 1, you’re stuck with me, because I teach Geometry too. You’ll still have me regardless if you pass or fail the course so you might as well make as much progress as possible.” He dried his tears and his paper, looked at me (and sang another song), carefully plotted his remaining points and worked until the bell.
So, why did this make me so upset? Well, it seems to me that this student was trying to avoid passing my class so he didn’t have another teacher and thus sacrifice passing his first high-school level course. I need to think deeply about how my practice moves students to change how they think about themselves and their roles in our class and school community.
I am often reading bits and pieces about Whole Child Education. Each day, I try to show my students that they are people that matter who have the right to feel healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. But I don’t think that all students feel these attributes in all of their classes. I want to be able to rethink and restructure my classes so that more students are able to experience a great learning environment. Because for real, my students shouldn’t cry as often as they do.