Reaching out to help kids who know how to hide

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My first year teaching, I had sophomores in a portable building behind the pool and tennis courts at McLane High School. I remember after year of studying and subbing and student teaching, the isolation felt when the door closed for the first class for first period. The isolation was good though, as it really meant when that door closed I was on my own, with only my training and self to rely on.

In the kind of grandstanding that I would never in later years have, I announced to the students at the start of the school year something like:

“Some of you have slipped through the cracks with what you’re supposed to know because you know how to play the game. You know you shouldn’t have passed Algebra but you figured out how to do the bare minimum. You should be upset about cheating yourself of really learning algebra last year because you’ll need it this year – talk to me and I’ll help before it’s too late.”

There was sort of a silence after that and I felt like I’d been a bit too harsh, but awkwardly continued with the lesson like normal. After class, a tall sophomore who I knew was on the football team and sometimes in trouble approached me and told me that he was one of those students who knew he had slacked his way through school.

Eventually, he started coming in three days a week in the morning around 7:15 to get math help. We started  with addition, subtraction, multiplication etc and then worked from there. After a few weeks he didn’t even need it but kept coming to keep the grades up. Later, he and I founded Tri-This Inc after one of those morning conversations and the triathlon effort in turn helped change or improve hundreds of lives; not just students too.

So today, this story reminds me that asking the tough questions and saying the painfully obvious, is often what needs to be done. Especially when it comes to kids and education, we need to stand up for what is right. If a colleague refuses to learn a new teaching strategy or their attitude is bringing down others, we need to have the kid-first attitude to confront them within the PLN/school and help them see that they have been able to slip through the cracks thus far, but no more.

*I actually found some pictures online of that first classroom in the portables… here

**thanks to Janet Woodthorpee for the title and graphic idea!

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