Teachers: For Best Results, Know Thy Students

The first day of school for students in one of the districts in my area was yesterday – yesterday. August 1st. I think I blinked and missed summer.

My kids have a couple more weeks before the first day, so all the kids in my area either have their bottoms in the chairs of their shiny new classrooms already, or they will soon. So everyone probably has school on the brain. I’m just glad my brain kicked in before I missed the school supply sales.

It has been an extremely insightful summer in my family. I’ve been tutoring my oldest son after a rather rough third grade experience. My day job is tutoring, so I figured I might be qualified to do such a thing.

A little back story of the kid’s year: He was in third grade, the first year for standardized testing. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD. He brought home Fs on progress reports in reading while being off the charts in math and science, ability wise, yet he still brought home Bs in those subjects.

Those are all different posts for different days. This post is about what I learned about how my own kid learns. Seems like something I should have already known, doesn’t it?

Seems like something his teacher should have known, too.

Here’s what I learned about him: he is one of the slowest workers I’ve ever seen. Ever. And here’s the part that makes this sadder than it already is: his father is the same freaking way. Seems like I should have had a clue going in.

At first, I thought the phenomenon was behavioral. Surely, if I offer incentives, he will quicken his pace, I thought.

“You can go outside when you finish that paragraph.”

“If that practice sheet isn’t done by lunchtime, you won’t watch your show.”

“I thought we might go swimming today, but you have to get that reading done first. It’s been two hours. Come on.”

None of that mattered. He still spent hours completing what should have taken thirty minutes, tops.

Sure, his ADHD has something to do with it. I’m not going into that here. The point is, he got the work done when he had all the time he needed.

He didn’t get Fs in reading because he can’t read. He can read. He’s almost on grade level. He got Fs because he didn’t complete the assignments.

I’ve been on the teaching side of this problem. I know his teacher was trying to teach him “responsibility” to be in charge of his own work and learning. If he gets an F, it’s because he didn’t buckle down and take charge and do what he needed to do, not because he needs four times as much time to complete the work.

The poor kid couldn’t catch up, and he didn’t have the first clue how to deal with the problem. Just work faster wasn’t getting the job done, oddly enough.

So I’m approaching this year differently. I’ll ask his teacher to send unfinished work home daily. And I’ll pursue an IEP – like plan that will require the school to give him the time he needs to succeed.

Some of you might be thinking that the real world isn’t like this. You’re right. It’s not. But the kid is nine years old. How abthinkingout we give him a chance to not feel like a failure before he’s thrust into the real world?

I’m not writing this to bash his teacher or teachers in general. Like I’ve said, I’ve been there. Knowing what I know now, I can think of specific past students who probably had this same issue, and I just didn’t take the time to discover it. I was teaching “responsibility”, after all. I’m writing this to encourage those who work with students, especially students who struggle, to find out what the real root of the problem is. My kid didn’t fail reading because he can’t read, and he didn’t fail because he couldn’t do the work. He failed because he wasn’t given what he needed to succeed. Period.

I wish all teachers, students, and parents the best school years possible, in spite of the challenges that face us.



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