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Not in my class...


          "He's just bored, " she said. 
          "No. I don't accept that. In this class, he has lots of opportunities to challenge himself," I responded.  Although seemingly calm when I said this, I was seething inside. This is what I was really thinking: "Not in my class." 
     "Maybe he needs a nudge. Some kids need that, you know," she countered. 
     "Maybe," I responded.  This is what I was really thinking: "Maybe that would be true if he were in the class down the hall where all they do is worksheets day in and day out. But not in my class." 
     Then, as I'm wont to do, I started to doubt myself.  
     I sat down with Todd (not his real name) to talk about his math work. I wanted to get a better sense of how he thought about this particular problem since his thinking wasn't clearly evidenced in the explanation on his paper. Admittedly, the math in this problem was not very difficult for him. As we talked I helped him find a way to connect to this problem, and I challenged him to write his own related story problem.  He took me up on it right away.  Was it the one-on-one engagement that did it?  The individual attention that was missing?  When he didn't know something, I directed him to use the internet.  Now, he was hooked.  When I handed over my classroom to another teacher for my regular release time, he was still working away.  Later I heard that he  sought advice when his research led him to two different measurements - feet and centimeters - and was wondering whether he was allowed to combine the two.  Bingo! 
     Later I thought, "Maybe she was right. Maybe he has bored at times or at least not challenged enough. Maybe I dropped the ball on this one sometimes and now it's two weeks before the last day of school. What was I thinking?" And, almost as quickly, an internal dialogue with my two selves ensued. 
     Me: "But, in my class he has lots of opportunities to explore and expand his understandings." 
     Second me: "And, what did you do to ensure that he'd tap into these opportunities once you realized that he wasn't going to do it on his own?"   
     Me: "I made suggestions and he rarely took me up on any of the challenges I offered, at least not for very long." 
     Second me: "And, how long did you take before you tried something else?" 
     Me: "How much hand holding do I do as a teacher before I'm working harder than my students? Where was he all these months? Didn't he get the message that in this class we need to meet each other half-way?" 
     Second me: "He was probably reading his book or chatting with his friends and not listening." 
     Me: "OK. So, what could I have done to engage Todd in the learning of the classroom?" 
     Second me: "What could you have done to engage with Todd in his learning?"
     Me:  (Silence.)
     Ultimately, I believe it is my responsibility to make sure that my students are learning, and to do something about it when they're not.  I also believe that you can't make anybody learn anything they're not ready to learn or don't need to learn.  That's why it's so important to figure out what makes every child in the classroom connect to learning.  Of course, what a child wants to learn may not match the learning that the teacher has planned.  Although this poses a different kind of challenge, it's not an impossible one.  In fact, it's one of the things that invigorates me as a teacher.    
     So, did I do enough? Or, maybe my self-doubting is clouding my memory?  Maybe I didn't do enough of the right things, whatever those may be?  But, more importantly, how do I reconcile this experience so that I am better prepared to address a similar situation in the future?

Posted to https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/the-weekly-slice-of-life-story-challenge-5/
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