Sunday, February 9, 2014

Asking for help

I seek help on-line constantly when it comes to lesson planning.  I've grown used to the idea that anything I can think of, someone out there in the blogosphere has probably already perfected and I love that I can see kernels of lessons I've just dreamed come alive in others' hands.  This doesn't even include the gazillions of ideas I've never thought of that are about a hundred times better than anything I can dream.

But when it comes to actually teaching- implementing the lessons, getting my kids excited, supporting their growth, encouraging them to persevere, I've never received much help (administrators never pop in.  I've been formally observed only once and that was by a coworker) and I feel like at this stage, I don't need much help.  I have a thriving community of students coming during lunch to do math because they enjoy it, and I've watched the most recalcitrant math students slowly gain confidence and enthusiasm and I feel like this is what I'm good at.  I'm good at patiently coaxing students into learning that they can learn math and over time, that they enjoy learning it.

But this semester I have the most stubbornly anti math student I've ever taught.  For three weeks, she was an angel in my advisory and a demon in my math classroom.  She refuses to accept help saying that she doesn't need it, she'll do it at home.  Then she proceeds to do nothing at all through the whole 80 minute block.  When I try to help her she slides under her desk, covers her paper, refuses to look at the problem, gets up and walks away, or starts ranting about the uselessness of math.  She's a wonderful student in advisory so I know she's bright and capable, but she refuses to cooperate in math (especially whenever division becomes involved.  She says she never learned it and she never wants to learn it.)  She slept through all of my math classes two weeks ago and refused to stir when I tried to rouse her.  She got a 30% on her first test and even though I discussed with her the consequences of her actions through all of advisory that day she slept through math again the next day. I asked her if she wants to fail? It means she'll have to do it all again next year.  She replied she doesn't but she can BS her way through the other tests.  I said that learning to read is tedious, but once you do learn, it's magical what you can discover and that math is the same way.  She replied that reading is vital but math is superfluous.  I said that everyone needs help to learn math because it's several thousand years of accumulated knowledge that we're trying to impart in a few short years and that all I would like is for her to let me help her.  Right now I don't even care about notes or homework or tests.  I would just like her to allow me to talk to her about math without arguing.  She wouldn't budge.

I thought that I'd have to just wait her out.  I'd need to stop nagging her and let her come around on her own.  Maybe over time she'd start to feel left out.  Or she'd realize that she couldn't BS her way on her own and she didn't want to fail.  She was so obstinate that maybe just the fact that I was pushing was making her push against me and if I stopped pushing she'd stop fighting.  I was worried though that she would get so far behind by the time she came round that it would be too late to learn what she needed to learn since she was already so far behind.

So I turned to our vice principle, explained what was going on and what I'd tried and he said he'd talk to her.  The next day she took notes, completed her homework and asked for help.  I asked him what he said and he told me he'd talked about how many thousands of years of knowledge we were trying to teach her in a tiny span of time and that she could not learn without my help.  He said that this will be maybe the only time in her life where she had a teacher who was willing to give her extra time, extra help and who really cared about her and if she waited, she would never get the help she needed.  It was almost exactly the same logic I'd tried on her.  Her efforts have continued through the week.

I guess this just reinforces my belief that if I ever get to a place where I think I've figured it out- that means I've grown too complacent.  Teaching will always and forever be something I'll need help with and that's the way it's supposed to be because it's a collaborative endeavor.  I hope I'm always humble enough to ask for the help I need.

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