In every class there is at least one challenging student. Behavior, grades, attitudes, abilities, whatever it is. The immaturity and the bad attitudes I can handle. There is one student though, who baffles me. He’s not rude. He’s not loud. He doesn’t stress me out just by walking into the room. But he is failing English and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t care. There is really nothing that seems to interest him that I have found. I was so worried about this kid.
Then two weeks ago, while the rest of the class was trudging through those research note cards, we had to have a discussion about why he hadn’t even begun. He had a simple answer. He didn’t know how. In addition to the lessons I myself had given on using books and internet sources for information, I know that the research writing process the school enforces is taught in sixth and seventh grade, so I knew this wasn’t entirely new information. Planning to challenge him with this fact, I asked him who his 7th grade language arts teacher was.
“I don’t remember who my teacher was, it’s been two years since I was in 7th grade.”
The fact that this kid is repeating the 8th grade explains a lot about his motivation and behavior. The fact that I only found out because the kid told me makes no sense.
That day in class, I took the time to go over the assignment with the student one-on-one, and we set a goal for what he would accomplish in class the next day. I suggested that instead of sitting with his friends, he sit at a table with me the following day so that he could ask for help when he got stuck. To my surprise, not only did he agree, after that he always chose to sit with me in the library.
One day last week I asked him if he was in danger of failing 8th grade again. He said he was, and I told him that I didn’t want Language Arts class to be the reason he couldn’t go to high school next year where he belongs. Since the first day I took the time to encourage him, this kid has rededicated himself to the class. His work is slow. Painfully slow sometimes. He is still very far behind the class, but he is doing everything he needs to do. In the last week he has almost completely caught up on the project. After months on entering zeros in the because he never turns anything in, I was able to give him grades on the first two parts of the research unit, which raised his grade to a 77.
The next day in class I asked him if he had checked his grades lately. He said no, because they are always so bad. I asked him what his mom thinks about his grades. He replied that she is always mad at him, just like the teachers. When I told him his grade was at a 77 in the class I thought he was going to choke. He could not believe it. Since he has seen the positive benefits of his hard work in the form of a passing grade, he has stayed committed to working on the project every day. Sitting with him has given me the chance to get to know him, and him a chance to trust me a little more. The difference that two weeks has made has astounded me. Two weeks ago this kid pretended he couldn’t hear me when I spoke directly to him and didn’t bring a pencil hoping that would be an excuse not to work. Now he seeks me out to ask questions and get feedback, and avoids his friends whom he knows will distract him.
On Friday, I asked him for his mother’s email so I could let her know how he was doing in class. He replied that he didn’t think a teacher had ever emailed his mom about something good. I told him that he had worked really hard, and that he deserved acknowledgement, and his mother would probably like to hear about it.
His mother’s reply was ecstatic, emphasizing how meaningful it was to hear something positive about her son, and how rare it is.
To date, this has probably been my best teaching moment. I know that I have made a real connection with a student that has the potential to have real positive benefits in his learning life. It’s been so long since he had someone encourage him, and I had no idea until 2 weeks ago.
On Monday morning I asked him if his mom told him that I emailed her. He said that she baked him a CAKE. That was the first time I’ve seen that kid smile all year.