Seeking Shelter

WARNING:  This post might challenge some of your views on the responsibility we have for failing students

From Simplifying Response to Intervention:  Four Essential Guiding Principles (Baffum, Mattos, and Weber)

It is disingenuous for a school to claim that its mission is to ensure that all students learn at high levels, yet allow its students to choose failure.  Unfortunately, at the secondary level, it is all too common for students to be “offered the opportunity” for help.   But if a schools gives students the option to fail, is the school teaching responsibility or merely punishing students for not already possessing the skill?  By “offering” help, the school expects students to either have an intrinsic love of learning or to fully grasp the lifelong benefits or life-damaging consequences of not succeeding at school.

I hear occasionally from teachers that we need to teach kids “responsibility” and we can’t force them to learn if they don’t want to.  This line of thinking bothers me a great deal as places the burden of being eager to learn on the student.  Some kids place “learning at school” very low on their priority list.  We must acknowledge that rather than disregard it with “he/she never came and asked a question.”  If we are being honest with ourselves, we know exactly which kids need the help but won’t outwardly seek it.  We know which kids won’t ask questions when they have them, and which ones won’t make an effort to turn in assignments that they’ve missed.   It’s not that they are incapable of seeking help, asking questions, and turning in assignments.  But by stating that “help was offered but not taken” we do not absolve ourselves from the responsibility to reach these students.

I am putting this in blog format to hold myself accountable as the end of the year approaches, but anyone who would like to join me is welcome.  I want to make a commitment to those students that struggle but don’t know how to seek help:  my job is not to teach students, but to make sure that they learned.  I want to do better at addressing those kids in my classroom.


    • Our high school is piloting an RTI program this trimester. We have a 25ish minute block of time during 4th period called Academic time. Students identified as needing help or needing to get caught up go to the student learning center during that time where there is a licensed math teacher there to assist them. We started this program in March and it seems to be successful so far. The key first step is identifying those kids that need intervention.

  1. In my experience, often, by high school, to ask for help at the level they’re at (the ‘concept train’ left them behind back around division) would be humiliating *and* they wouldn’t get help building from that level. They head off to college and land in my tutoring lab…

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  3. Yes. I do know the students that are choosing not to learn. I don’t wait for them to ask for help. I work hard to engage them. Brief conversations; questioning what they think of the problem; challenging them to “solve” the puzzle; egging them on to show that they can learn the lesson: the methods change depending on the student. I cajole, I tease, I sympathize, I commiserate. I tell jokes, mostly groaners! I tell them I believe in them, even when they don’t…. Or won’t. One boy told me not to believe in him. He was withdrawn, usually pulling his shirt over his head and ignoring everything. I would say hello, I would tell him I was glad to see him. I would poke and prod, even as he would groan and deliberately shut me out. One day I noticed he was completing a notes page. As soon as he saw me looking, he quit. For the rest of the class. The next day, I saw him working again. I shot him a quick thumbs up and went over to another student. He kept working. The next day, he called me over and asked me a question about the page he was working on. I didn’t make a fuss, but as he walked out the door at the end of class, I told him I knew I was right in believing in him. He smiled at me for the first time ever! Does this hold for every Ss? No. I had a boy in the same class who dropped out two weeks after he turned 18. I don’t know that there is one answer, but I will never stop/give up on any of those I teach. I agree with you, I want to get better at this most important of our teaching responsibilities!

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