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My Students are Below Grade Level….Now What?

Every year I watch excited and motivated new teachers decorate their classrooms in anticipation of the first day of school. It never fails by the end of September the motivation has disappeared and the excitement has slowly turned into worry and frustration. As I walk down the hallway I can see the terror in their eyes because they have realized  3 things:

  1. The students do not complete classwork or homework
  2. The students are working 1 to 2 years below grade level
  3. The principal expects miracles to take place by April before testing

I always chuckle to myself because by the time they recognize these 3 things the teacher will either begin to mentally check out and coast on autopilot until the end of the school year (doesn’t not plan on returning), resign after Christmas break, or roll up his/her sleeves and get to work to find solutions for the first 2 problems.

For the new teachers who have decided to roll up their sleeves and get to work, please know that all is NOT lost. Even though the students have gotten on every nerve in your body and your worst student is never absent there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a dim light, but a light none the less! Normally it takes students who are working below grade level the first 2 grading periods to make any kind of progress because they regress during the summer due to lack of academic enrichment or reinforcement.

I can remember when I worked as Master Teacher one of the math teachers came into the TAP Room and began to cry. I asked her why was she crying? Her response was, “The students are so low and I have all of these special education students with accommodations.” I looked at her and said, ” Stop crying because they will get it. Just keep teaching and give the students until January to make gains.” To make a long story short, at the end of the school year this teacher moved a 6th grade group of students from 28% math achievement in 5th grade to 73% math achievement in 6th grade.
urban comic

As a veteran teacher who has only taught students who are below grade level I can tell you to never give up on trying to close the gaps in learning. When you feel frustrated and tired and you’re about to give up, that’s when your students will get it! That small accomplishment will be enough to keep you going until the next one and then before you know the end of the school year will be a month away.

Teaching students that are below grade level is no easy task.  It takes a lot of planning and preparation. If you can weather all that comes with teaching these students, the payoff will be huge. I agree with everyone that teaching is a thankless job and the public’s opinion of teachers is not great. Just remember it’s not what adults think about us but our clientele’s (students) opinion that matters.

5 thoughts on “My Students are Below Grade Level….Now What?”

  1. What a wonderful post! I can relate! Although most of my years were teaching the gifted, I think that made it even more difficult to understand why it is such a challenge for others. It took years to realize that teaching it again and again and maybe even a little bit louder was not going to make it sink in any better. Ah Ha! I realized the work was now on my plate to figure out how to represent that knowledge or information in a different way or connect it to something that was familiar. One has to develop an art of recognizing the misconception and getting at that knowledge that does exist and learn how to build upon concepts already constructed. I feel teaching is truly a craft that must be practiced and perfected using a great deal of reflection! Thanks for igniting a bit more drive in me before I see those prospective learners tomorrow.
    And…. by the way, The cartoon is such a reminder to find humor in our lives!

  2. Pingback: Explicit Instruction: An Instructional Strategy Lost in Translation - IgnitED

  3. Michelle you are always spot-on! Thank you for your passion and devotion to teaching and sharing with fellow educators!

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