After sixteen years of teaching, I’ve assumed a new role and have moved out of the classroom this year. Of course, my greatest fear was realized after one month: I miss the kids. I miss their youth, their awkwardness, their perspective, and their curiosity. Intent on keeping the focus of education in my life, I’ve begun tutoring a few high school students on the weekend – students who are either struggling to succeed or benefit from having a one on one relationship with a teacher.
Yesterday, a 15-year old girl, new to high school, sat next to me, clearly frustrated in math. She said they’d had their first quiz, and the mean score was a 53. The highest grade was an 82. I asked her what she thought that mean score meant. She replied, “That no one gets it.” Well, I joked, at least you understand that math concept. She wasn’t amused.
I asked her if the teacher had explained what he planned to do with the score. She seemed baffled, answering, “What do you mean? He’s going to enter it in to the grade book. He’s moving on to the next chapter.” I wanted to know her plan. She didn’t understand that first chapter, had not learned the math concepts, and like an inexperienced builder was about to attempt to erect another story on a weak foundation. I explained that she had to develop some resiliency and to take responsibility for her own learning in that environment.
Dejected, she said she didn’t think that was possible and that after week two she already wondered if she would be a failure in math in high school. Resiliency was one thing, but this task seemed insurmountable. She voiced words that echoed in my mind for the rest of the weekend: “I just need a teacher that wants to make sure I learn it.”
I’m in the business of education. I’m passionate about making school an exciting place of discovery, innovation, and growth. But sometimes I think we education advocates are missing the forest for the trees. If we haven’t convinced teachers and administrators that the classroom should be first and foremost a place of learning, then we are never going to transform the student experience. The raison d’être of every technology device, every opportunity for professional development, every new initiative must be to increase student learning. Why haven’t we been successful in getting that message to resonate? Do we need to come up with a new strategy?