Failing as a Teacher
Mike came to me as a remedial English student. Unsure of himself, and lacking skills he should have learned in junior high/ middle school, Mike declared (with emphasis!) that he “hated English, hated writing, and usually hated his teachers”. Of course, being the uber-confident, charming and charismatic world-beater that I am, I took his declaration as a personal challenge. I wound up the semester feeling defeated at his lack of progress.
Now, in all fairness, Mike is a special needs student. He has ADHD and problems with comprehension. It was challenging to engage him for more than a few minutes at a time. Part of his difficulty lies in his inability to concentrate, for sure. In my opinion, Mike’s biggest problem lies in the past experiences he had in the classroom. He recounted stories of teachers, however well- meaning, who singled him out in front of the other students. He told me about being pulled from class to take tests alone in empty classrooms. He shared stories of bad teachers making big productions of giving him the extra help he needed. My heart bled for this kid. Silently, I was impressed he had managed to even make it into college- and I resolved to focus on his achievement.
Mike and I would sit together in front of the computer and go through his papers line by line. I would point out the mistakes in spelling and syntax, sentence fragments and run-ons. Together, we would discuss ways to make effective changes and better word choices. He was eager to make corrections, and seemingly blossomed during our time together. I could see his confidence rising with each new assignment- and improving grades. I felt confident we were on the right track- and that I was making a difference in his academic career!
So far, everything sounds wonderful, right? How could I feel like I failed him? Well, the fact of the matter is that I did fail him. Even though he grew as a writer, he didn’t retain the skills we had worked so diligently on developing. He came to see me the following semester, and shyly asked me to take a look at his latest assignment. Nearly everything we had corrected and developed over the past semester was effectively lost. Luckily, he asked me to help him again.
I found worksheets to help him. I bought a composition and style book, highlighted pertinent sections, and determined to succeed this time around, decided to devote half of our allotted time to re-teaching and reviewing grammar and punctuation. I see some changes in him, again. This time, I won’t fail him.