Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Real Struggle

Middle school students are my favorite students. Even with all their personality flaws, they are fun, caring, witty, and STILL want a teacher who cares enough to teach them.

Struggling readers. This is a REAL problem in education. Before the girls were born, I taught 6th grade reading for years and then became a literacy coach for a high school - yes, I am nuts. Like I have said a million times, struggling readers are my best students. My favorite students.

This school year I am blessed to work some amazing students. Their smiles are as big as their face, their willingness to learn is strong, and their inability to read fluently or comprehend is as big as the Grand Canyon.

It is painful to see a 12 year old boy cry because a 3rd grade book is too difficult to read.  It is gut wrenching to do a lesson on syllables and suffixes with a 13 year old girl who can not read the word 'visiting.' It is alarming to know that these children have not been taught. It makes me furious! How the hell did it get this bad?!?  How did the reading teacher not notice the child who uses exact text from the book to answer comprehension questions vs her own words indicates she has NO idea what she reading?

Don't believe me? Today, my student had to answer the question, "How did Walt earn free haircuts?" Her response written perfectly "Walt earned free haircuts with his artistic talent."  My response to her answer? That's a great answer. In fact, that answer gives me the exact sentence from the book. I am so happy you found where to look for your answer. What exactly does your answer mean?  The student not only could not read her answer, she did not know what it meant and had no idea what she read about in chapter two.

This is not an exaggeration. This is real life. Real students. Students that had teachers. This student is in 7th grade.

The reason these students are behind? We, their teachers, their administrators, their school, failed them. We spent too many hours bitching how behind they were vs doing the work it took to get them on grade level. We spent too many hours judging the mom who went to the nail salon vs reading with her child. We spent too many hours judging the parents working two jobs to put food on the table. We spent too many hours judging the mom 'who works nights.'

Guess what? None of these parents woke up on any morning and said, "Hey kid of mine - fuck you. I don't care about you. Good luck with school." Their parents DO care. Maybe they don't 'care' they way you 'care' for your own kids, but they do care.

How about we stop judging the student's home life and actually TEACH the child. What a novel idea. TEACH them!
Will it be hard? Hell yes.
Will you have to spend extra time on your lesson plans? Hell yes.
Will you have to utilize small group instruction? Hell yes.
Will you possibly have to teach phonics to a child that should already know it? Hell yes.
Will you make a difference? Hell yes.

Stop recording a 70 in your grade book and start recording what the child earned. You are not doing them any favors by passing them along. Stop saying you don't have time. That's bullshit. Make the time. You chose this profession. It is your job to TEACH every student that walks through your classroom door no matter what their level is. And if you teach elementary, please don't ever tell a secondary teacher you have too many students. I swear your 40 is nothing compared to their 200.

Please have hard conversations with parents and administrators and explain the child's academic struggles. Most parents are not teachers. They only know what you tell them. If their kid passed, then they think they learned. This is what you have communicated with your report card. If the child is failing and needs a tremendous amount of help and at the end of the year they are still behind, it is OK if to recommend retention. It is far less embarrassing to repeat fourth grade than it is to be in middle school and be on a 2nd grade reading level. Don't believe me? Teach middle school kids and you will. These children refuse to read out loud, refuse to do their work, and get sent to alternative schools. The reason they refuse? They literally cannot do the work.

Teachers: I BEG you, ASK your students WHY they are not doing something. ASK them in PRIVATE. Build a relationship with them. If you're lucky, while you're teaching them, they will teach you a few things too.

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