Making Time for the Struggling Student

March 28, 2022

Anyone that has worked with students can tell you that they struggle with different things and at different times. This should be no surprise to anyone. As an educator, our most important focus should be to help them where they need it and when. This may sometimes be a quick answer to a question, or it could be sitting down for several sessions to help fill in blanks and work through challenges until it clicks. Mastery of a skill should be the goal before moving on, even if it takes a little longer for some.

Most teachers I know strive for this, but struggle with the timeline constraints from pacing and curriculum guides and other requirements of the job. To quote a favorite movie line, they’re “too busy trying to keep <their> job that <they> forget to do <their> job” (The American President, Andrew Shepherd). And they are right, sadly, especially with most on an annual contract.

It hasn’t happened often, but I’ve been threatened with being fired for insubordination over things like not completing paperwork to check a district box or not teaching exactly what my co-teacher was teaching at the exact time on the same day with completely different students.

I used to let it scare me until I reminded myself that my first obligation as an educator was to educate children, not do paperwork (although I do recognize that documentation is a necessary part of the process, so there will be some). Then I started advocating for students as their “inside person” and asking my leaders how this task was beneficial to student learning. It changes the conversation and the focus to what it should be very quickly, even if it encourages them to include the “WHY” when presenting a task.

You see, if a student is struggling in our classrooms, most of them will not say a word or show it, at least in my experience with middle school. Asking for help can make them a target from their peers, or sometimes their parents. It is up to us as professionals to give them ways to ask for help without asking for help. Silent signals, circulating and interacting, and open office options are great ways to allow the struggling student to seek help in their own way at a time that works for them.

I read a recent post on social media about legislators trying, once again, to pass a bill requiring educators to submit all lesson plans and activities at the beginning of the school year. Prior attempts have been unsuccessful, but since they keep trying, I wonder if they truly grasp what educators do every day.

I am not opposed to lessons and activities for the semester/year/course being prepared in advance–in fact, the district I am in does this, but the teachers don’t prepare it, the curriculum team does. This allows us as educators to create supplemental resources to support targeted teaching based on student needs, provide additional time for students that need it and allow us to focus on the individual needs of the student, as it should be.

But, as lesson plans currently stand, many school districts want accommodations and step-by-step accounts for how they will teach as well as anticipated questions and struggles. Without knowing or having never met the child, this is unrealistic.

With all of the paperwork required of educators these days, teaching is a very small portion of what they actually do. Education seems to be pulling educators away from teaching a child from where they are to bring them up to a standardized level based on a for-profit test (I’ll save how they set those scores for another blog post).

And doing this ‘all in advance’ approach certainly doesn’t take into account the potential growth a student will have throughout the year that could null and void lesson plans produced based on prior school year data.

If we truly want all the documentation in advance and want educators to be able to meet and teach our student where they are, we need to make some changes to the expectations and tasks for educators so they can focus on teaching the students.

I am one educator with an opinion that will certainly vary from others and I am open to hearing different points of view, reasons, and ideas, and am willing to change my opinion. But, no matter what the opinion, we should all agree that educating students should be our number one focus to better prepare them for their future.

Comment below to let me know your opinion on the idea of submitting lessons plans at the first of the year–I am open-minded and willing to hear other’s out and change my mind. Until next time, follow or interact with me on Twitter @AddictedtoTeac1

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