Teacher Tales: Help Me!

Maybe I like to think of myself as a street-wise guy. Maybe it’s that I think I can read people well. I always thought I could tell when someone was trying to use chicanery to “get over” on me. Then I met “Amy”, an eleven year-old fifth grade student who attended the school where I did my student teaching. I realized I had been duped!

Amy was one of the more disruptive students in the class. She refused to do homework by herself. She refused to stop turning around to talk to the students who sat behind her, and most of all, she refused to stop trying to take advantage of every teacher’s kryptonite- knowledge of a student’s challenges at home. Although I eventually wizened up, I had unwittingly set up a bad precedent for a one-way, co-dependent, and unhealthy pattern of interaction.

Every day, it seems, there is another news story about bad teachers doing rotten things to the children they are supposed to protect and nurture. We rarely hear about the teachers who make positive differences in their students’ lives. It is a rarity to find newscasters reporting about the teachers who buy students supplies out of their own paychecks when parents can’t, or won’t, supply what is needed. We don’t ever hear about the teachers who buy food to help feed the children who don’t get enough to eat at home. The truth is, most of the teachers I have met teach because it is in their hearts, and they wouldn’t do anything else.

As a whole, teachers, like nurses and many other professionals who work with children, are extremely caring people. It’s no stretch then, to see how a student’s hard luck story can affect them so deeply. I think teachers fill the parental void so many children feel these days. Now, that may not be a popular sentiment with everybody, but it is nevertheless truthful. With more families needing dual incomes, children are too often left to their own devices after school. Parents can’t always devote the necessary time to their students when they work hard to make ends meet. And that’s when students like Amy reach out to surrogate parents.

Amy’s family was dysfunctional, to say the least. With a father in prison, and a mother suffering with addiction issues, Amy lived with her grandparents. For their part, Amy’s grandparents tried their best to stay involved with her academics, but were unable to effectively help her. Amy was in grave danger of failing all of her classes, so my cooperating teacher and I agreed to tutor her during lunch recess.

Amy and I sat, day after day, pouring over her homework assignments. We went over her questions- and why the correct answers were indeed, correct. I started finding myself giving her a couple of answers to choose from- thereby narrowing her chances of answering incorrectly. Then, I found myself suggesting the answers to her- but I rationalized it by telling myself that I was helping her to grasp the concepts. When I realized that I was reading her reading assignments aloud to her- while she played around with some doo-dad or another, I knew I was going to have to stop “helping” her- and actually help her- by making her do her work herself.

It was quite the revelation, to say the least. In all of my eagerness to help this student, I was inadvertently hurting her education. But, with some redirection from my cooperating teacher, I was able to turn things around. Amy started doing her work, not every day, mind you, but often enough, and correctly enough to earn passing grades. I too, had learned a valuable lesson, and in the immortal lyrics of the Who, I won’t get fooled again.

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