Joey was a struggling learner. His skills were weak from several years of barely getting by, natural smarts without focus, parents who did not recognize his struggles, and falling just below the radar.
By fifth grade, Joey was far behind his classmates, sullen, and beginning to act out in class. His teachers had lost all patience with him and repeatedly blamed Joey and his parents for failing to to do their parts. In the middle of the year, Joey was sent to the office repeatedly for refusing to do his work in class.
It was at this point that I took a greater interest in Joey. One afternoon while sitting in the office with a pile of math work that he had refused to do, I asked Joey if I could help him. After several minutes of grumbling, I deduced that Joey did understand the assignment, that he thought he could do the work, and that he had a pencil. I asked him, quietly, if would do the work now. He did. I checked his work and helped him through some errors. I thinked him for letting me help him. He almost smiled, and I sent him back to class.
After a few days of this, and a constantly decreasing amount of grumbling and increasing amount of smiling, I began to talk *with* Joey to find out what I could. He confirmed my worst fears. Joey was not stupid or especially lazy or even unwilling. Joey felt that his teachers didn't like him. The problem was that all the evidence I'd seen backed up his assertion. His teachers never had a kind word for or about him and were still blaming him and his parents.
When it came to work on Joey's placement for sixth grade, I made sure to place him with a homeroom teacher and team that were especially good at connecting with the down and out boys like Joey. I also placed Joey with a special educator who got along great with his students (maybe at the expense of some teaching skill).
To make a long story longer, sixth grade was a completely different experience for Joey. He still struggled with academics, but he made considerable gains. Most exciting from my perspective was that he rarely got sent to the office the whole year. Joey had become a new person.
There are two main reasons for Joey's turn around. Joey gets the lion share of the credit; he matured. Right after that is that for the first time in a while, Joey had teachers who valued him for who he was. They made him feel good about being Joey.
Teachers don't have to like a student, but that student must never feel like the teacher doesn't like him.
How do you show your students that you value them? Did you ever have a student that you just didn't like? How did you handle the situation?
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