Something I hadn’t anticipated. I’m only four years in so maybe I was due. I’ve seen it happen and maybe I was conceited enough to think I wouldn’t be ‘tarred’ by the same brush. I pride myself on the relationships I have with my students. I work hard at this. It’s one of my ‘things’.
A parent had to come and speak to me about a student I teach. It appears that said student cannot bear to come back into my classroom even though there is only a week to go. They only started around Easter. They’re so upset that it’s affecting their general happiness; losing the desire to socialise with their friends and of course this is doing no end of harm to their self-esteem. Can we do something about this?
A first for me.
The reason, purely and simply, is that they ‘don’t get it’. Coming to my lessons has become torturous. It’s a ‘top’ set but achievement grades range from A* down to E so I try and differentiate – let the more able fly and concentrate efforts on those needing support. Clearly this has not been a success.
Annoyingly, student was perfectly happy in their previous class which quite firmly puts the blame on my shoulders. I’m not being a martyr about this, it’s pretty simple, student was happy in the other class (with a very good lead subject teacher = high standards) but has been driven to this by what goes on in my class.
I won’t deny it, I’m gutted. I know we have this dictum – Wiliam’s “we fail everyday and we’ll never be perfect” [sic] but this isn’t some philosophical debate. This is a cold hard parent telling me I’m making their kid unhappy. I have failed a student – clearly and succinctly.
I met with the student briefly. They stepped out of the classroom with tears in their eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at them. I was apologetic, “no-one should feel this way in a classroom”, told them of arrangements that would be made for the last week, and walked away. That was it. There was nothing to be gained from a heart to heart. I think it was the right move.
There was much that I wanted to say and I think that’s why I’m writing now. I have a little distance from those events, a tiny amount of reflection and maybe some clarity.
First things first, don’t take it personally! No? I’ll try. Seriously though! How can you not? The relationships I try and build are exactly that – one-to-one, personal, individual and I’ve misjudged this. The one key factor in Hattie’s pantheon of impact is the relationship with your teacher. This is a big one.
If I look at this as a case study maybe I can retain some objectivity but it’s doubtful. Inside a part of me is saying “It’s them, it’s not me.”
Student is not a high achieving student. Last significant assessment they scored an E. However, she is surrounded by more able students and that has a profound effect on their self esteem. There are other students in that class of similar ability, they recognise that there is a difference in ability and are accepting of this. I’m very “growth minded” about it and encourage them to work harder so they can see the improvements they can make. I think they believe me when I say “You don’t get it… …yet”.
Student is quiet, possibly painfully shy. I’m not. I’m gregarious, loud, shameless in my passion for teaching, learning, making mistakes in front of the class to show that learning is messy and never linear, never neat and tidy. I take tips – e.g. “Teach like a Champion” and try and push for becoming a better practitioner. No Opt Out, regardless of your nervous disposition. This probably explains the whole “feels like your picking on them” comment that I gently batted back to the parent when the point was raised.
When student received their end of year assessment (the ill feted ‘E’) they burst into tears. I tasked the class, took them outside for a breather and spoke to them at length about how this wasn’t a disaster but that sometimes people don’t get things the first time. I gave myself as an example of someone who has to work twice as hard at what I do to be half as good as any other teacher. Harder work would prove better results, make sure you speak to me when you don’t get things and I’ll do my very best to help. Hard work is hard, not impossible.
Maybe I should have seen the signs of someone drowning.
Student isn’t failing across the school. They aren’t below target anywhere except in my subject. I checked. This boils down to ‘them’ and ‘me’. I couldn’t inspire them. I couldn’t motivate them. I made it so that being in my class was ‘unbearable’ and in the end that’s what I keep coming back to.
Although it may not appear so, I’m strangely sangfroid about the whole thing. There’s no easy answer. It’s a combination of many factors, a ‘complex problem’ as they say. At one end of the spectrum I have comments such as “Well if it’s the first time this has happened maybe you’re not pushing all your kids as much as you should.” through to ‘maybe they have an issue with you being a man’ and right the way through to my personal feelings which are a combination of “how could I make someone’s life so miserable?” to “they need to man-up” and “…let it go Indiana..”.
As easy to approach as I think I am; as friendly, smiling, positive as people know me to be, this time it wasn’t enough. I believe I’m a good teacher in the sense that I try to be a good teacher and constantly work at being a good teacher. I’ll keep telling myself that.
A part of me wonders how I would feel if that were me and my kid and I just can’t see it happening. I would help them, try to overcome the challenges. Ask the teacher if they could help with extra tuition, buy a textbook, get to grips with the problem – mmm – do the teacher’s job for them? Is the fault with the parent for giving up so easily?
In a way, I’m happy it happened when it did. One more week, a bit of a break and during that time, some rebooting. If this had been January then I possibly wouldn’t be so blasé about it all.
We ask that our students be able to shrug off failure and chalk it up, learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes again. That’s what I will do.
It still hurts though.
Alternatively, maybe I should get a life outside of school and stop analysing my navel.
Just a thought.