Posted in STEM, Students, Teaching

Knowing When to Give Up

Perhaps my title is a little misleading.  I’m not at all implying that you should ever give up on your students.  Every student can be reached somehow at some time.  Our goal as educators is to find that time, connection, moment, etc to connect with our students and show them we care.  These little connections go a long way in the classroom.  When students feel connected, they want to do well and work hard.  Sometimes, however, as teachers, we need to know when to pass the baton onto another teacher or level.  Despite how connected we may be with students, not all students are able to work or perform at the same level.  No matter how much we want to see a student be successful where he or she is, that student may not be ready for the level we want them to be at.  They may need more practice, extra support, or something else entirely.  We need to know when we have pushed, challenged, and supported enough to know that the student needs something we are unable to provide them in the section they are in, at the level they are at, or in the group the have been placed.  It’s not giving up on the student, it’s about best supporting and helping that student where he or she is and not where we think or would like them to be.  Yes, it’s hard to admit that maybe our original thoughts on a student were wrong and that he or she needs to be working at a slower pace.  When we admit that, though, we are only helping the student grow.

Recently, in my STEM class, I have noticed that one of the students in my mid-level math section has been struggling to comprehend the skills covered at the fast pace the group moves.  As he has gaps in his past math learning, he is unable to process the more complicated content and skills I throw his way.  He can’t add, subtract, multiply, or divide positive and negative rational numbers when he never learned how to add fractions.  While I’ve been providing him with lots of extra, out of class help to review the basic concepts, it isn’t enough.  He’s feeling very overwhelmed, and today was the tipping point.  He did not demonstrate his ability to meet any of the objectives covered in the past lesson on operations with integers during today’s check-in assessment.  He felt lost and confused.  His body language showed me that he was feeling uncomfortable and in over his head.  Then, when I introduced today’s concept of operations with rational positive and negative numbers, he was unable to even begin the practice problems.  He was so overwhelmed with everything that he couldn’t process any new information.  He was even unable to ask questions for clarity as he had no idea what was going on.  I felt bad for him, but I didn’t want to give up.  I wanted to be able to see him be successful in this mid-level group.  I wanted to support and challenge him no matter what, but I also wanted him to feel successful, and he wasn’t.  So, as of tomorrow, he will be working in the supportive math section that has less students in it and covers the material at a much slower pace.  This is exactly what he will need; however, I hadn’t been ready to admit that to myself until today.  No teacher wants to feel like they’ve failed a student; and sometimes, when we place expectations upon students, we become too married to their success or inability to succeed.  Sometimes, we need to change our thinking and perspective.  We are teachers so that we can help students grow and succeed.  Therefore, everything we do needs to be about them.  It’s never about us.  Sometimes, a teaching method or level isn’t the most appropriate fit for a student, and that’s okay.  We need to admit that and make a change to help that student grow and feel successful.

I’m hopeful that this math level change will help this particular student be and feel more successful as he grows as a math student.  I’ll still be supporting and helping him throughout his journey; he’ll just be in a different group working at a more fitting pace for him.  He seemed to really understand this today when I broached the subject with him.  He knows that he has gaps in his math learning.  He never learned how to do long division or complete any sort of operations with fractions.  I explained the switch in a positive way that made it seem like the best option for him.  I want to see him feel success in math and so far he hasn’t had much of that.  This change will be really good for him.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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