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:
- The students do not complete classwork or homework
- The students are working 1 to 2 years below grade level
- 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.
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.