View My Stats

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Am I to blame?

Here are the answers an eighth grader wrote to my survey (click to see other results)

What is going well for you in math this year?
nothing is going well. 

What is difficult for you in math this year?
It seems like glenn does not have the ability to teach me at all.

I participate in class:
About the same as most students

When you have a question about classwork, what do you do? Does it help?
my tutor or dad

When you have a question about homework, what do you do? Does it help?
tutor or dad

When you have a question during a test/quiz, what do you do? Does it help?
what do you mean glenn? were not allowed to talk to anyone during the test. duuuuuuh!

This student feels that nothing is going well for him (it was an anonymous survey, but in this particular case, I have a good idea who this is given language and message) and he pretty much lays the blame for this on me.

Am I to blame?

This question itself is dangerous. Education has a miserable track record of laying blame. Blame the student, blame their family, blame last year's teacher, blame the book, blame the test.

Blame, blame, blame.

Am I to blame for this students current math class predicament?

Sure. I was not able to spend enough class time with him re-teaching all the concepts and skills covered at the beginning of class. Even though he is in a class of only 15 students, I still need to spend some significant amount of time touching bases with my other students. He, on the other hand, is unable to attend or focus sufficiently to whole class discussions. He either needs special, one-on-one attention or he has learned that he can expect it. Since I made decisions about spending time with more students and expecting some level of personal responsibility for the material, I am to blame.

Am I to blame for this students current math class predicament?

Sure. I was not able to create sufficiently differentiated activities that met the instructional needs of this student. He was in my 7th grade math class last year and I was unable to teach him how to multiply two digit numbers or the meaning of equivalent fractions at the same time I led the rest of the class through lessons on ratios, proportions, scale factor and slope of a line. This year I have also failed at explaining the meaning of the variable "x" in an equation at a level that match his very concrete understanding of basic math. Since I was unable to divide my time and create a parallel, differentiated curriculum, I am to blame.

Am I to blame for this students current math class predicament?

Sure. I was not subtle enough to recognize that he was lost with the main curriculum nor able enough to help him without his peers knowing. If I approach him, he feels singled out. If I ignore him, he feels I don't care. If I ask him to pay attention, he tell me he "has A.D.D." If I even accept that excuse with a nod, he tells his family that I am discussing his learning issues with the whole class. Since I was unable to finesse his educational experience in a way that helped him mask his learning differences, I am to blame.

Blame, blame, blame.

Am I to blame for this students current math class predicament?

This is a double edged sword, a multi headed dragon, a house of mirrors.

By saying yes, I take on all his learning issues, all his past failures, all his learned helplessness and all the blame for the times this year he does not focus, does not pay attention and instead disrupts the learning environment. Yes means that I shall not pay much attention at all to the other students as I will be sitting with him. Yes means I will essentially be teaching a class within a class, but not in a way that shows, because above all, he does not want to be seen as different from his peers.

What if I were to say "No, I am not to blame!" By saying no, I am holding firm line for personal responsibility and high academic and behavioral expectations. I am saying that the other 14 students in the class deserve attention to their needs as much as he does. My no could have been the catalyst for him to grow out a learned helplessness and take more responsibility for his actions and learning. It might have been the first step toward truly becoming a life long learner. My "No" could have been revolutionary.

The danger of categorically denying teacher blame is that it leads you down an expressway towards cynicism and cold heartedness. This is not the sole domain of the "experienced" (read "old") teacher, but it is well populated by "teachers of a certain age". Not accepting any teacher responsibility would be "so adolescent" of me. It would mean that just as this students does, I would be externalizing blame. Teflon teacher. It all slides off. My intentions are perfect, my execution flawless, my perceptions accurate.

Am I to blame for this students current math class predicament?

My answer is neither yes, no, or anything in between. My answer to this question of whether I could have prevented this student from suffering in math purgatory is that the jury is secuestered in deliberation.

It is a central reason for this blog.

Time for reflection. What do you think?


Matt said...

I think, like you say, to a certain extent you are responsible. When students do not learn material it's our job to do our best to help them make up for that. But it also sounds like this student has become accustomed to failure and accustomed to making excuses. I think that 8th grade is certainly old enough for students to take ownership of their learning and to figure out what's working and what's not working.

I also think that at times certain teachers, through no fault of their own, are scapegoated by parents. This attitude is passed to the student and the student-teacher relationship is severely jeopardized. It's hard to make up for that.

Just a few thoughts. Good luck.

ERKO said...

I do feel responsible for this occurring, but only to an extent. In this case, I think I lost patience with the lack of any semblance of responsibility towards his learning. The situation got out of hand quicker than it should have and I was not given much benefit of doubt by the parents or my administrator. I want to think that if I had been apprised of the situation, I would have been more effective in taking steps to change the dynamic. This is a danger point when working with adolescents: they easily misread social cues and misrepresent their world. I think more than being accustomed to failure, this student has grown to expect the classroom teacher to revolve around his needs, to the point of tuning out classroom discussions and group work. What makes it all the more difficult, though, is that his behaviors during this tuning out period make it difficult for others to tune in.

He has made it very clear that in his book, I have failed him. I feel very badly about this. That is why I wrote this entry. Thank you for you insightful comment.

Ronald Stewart said...

This is an interesting post.
From what you've said it seems clear to me that this kid is not really benefitting from being in your class.

It seems that he feels left out or is otherwise unwilling to participate and the class, and you feel like you're unable to fully help him.

In my opinion the environment is not working for him - and it's a good thing that this questionnaire has pointed this out. Is there a way that he can be taught in a different class or get extra support from the school?

The thing is that you need help and support to teach this kid - perhaps a teaching assistant, or some other way he can get extra attention and help, maybe special tuition to talk about how he's doing.

I'd say that you've done a good job to identify what's going on - it's the school or establishment's failing that you aren't getting enough support to deal with it well.

Just my opinion - I think this post is old so I'll wish you luck with it :)