Real Talk

“When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions.”   -Carl Sagan

One of the harder realities of teaching the lowest performing students (as measured by the district) in the Reading Department is that many of my students, despite being in intensive reading year after year, have a strong denial when it comes to realizing that they are far behind where they should be at their grade level and remediation is not just necessary but crucial for their success in school and life. But it’s a hard talk to initiate. Being placed in a different small group which the student perceives as a “lower” group (although group levels are never deemed ‘high’ or ‘low’ just as needing different targeted remediations and strategies) can be an uncomfortable adjustment for a student. It takes time and understanding of their feelings from me and trusting in me and hard-work from the student.

I had one student who when I placed her in the Interventionist group was very unhappy about that move and would sit in the group and not participate or do any of the work. But we kept at it, my Interventionist and myself, and eventually she started helping out and actively participating, and, most importantly, coming to school more. This was a girl who when I met with her mother, her mother had no idea she was not showing up for school. And because the student became more invested in her work, she was growing and the remediation was working. When I told her last week it was time to move to another group, she emphatically shook her head no. I’m not told no very often, and this was one occasion in which I had to smile. I looked at her and told her that I thought she didn’t like being in the interventionist group, and all she could do was put her head down and smile.

However, some students resist even more than others, and most if it revolves around the hard hallway conversation about me having to make teacher decisions the student may not agree with. One such student last week was so angry with me that it pushed him towards starting a fist fight with another student. Take two happened two days ago when he came back to school. I pulled him out again for the hard hallway conversations. I showed him the ORF (oral reading fluency) of another student who is at the goal rate of 150, and then showed him his rate of 90 and some of his assessments he had done in class. I told him that I wasn’t showing him these things to make him feel bad, but rather to show him that my decisions I make are based on the work that he has given me. He insisted that he just did not try in class, and I told him that he could truly understand the benchmark cause and effect a bit more, and that all we are to those who do not take the time to get to know us is what appears on paper, as unfair as that is. Therefore, we have to be not only amazing people in person, but as great as we can be on paper as well so those on the outside give us a shot. Our hallway conversation ended with him solemnly nodding his head that he would work hard in the Interventionist group and focus on learning all the skills he needed to develop.

When you aren’t where you are supposed to be for your grade level, you always know it deep down. You get placed in similar classes each year, students pass by the classroom and crack a joke about the work. My students know what it means to be in IR+, whether they let themselves think it or not. And they shouldn’t dwell on it. It’s a major reason I spend time making the curriculum as close to an honors class as possible. But when it comes time for small group, that’s when they have to get the remediation that will hopefully take them out of intensive classes. It reminds me of the beginning of the year, when I was sitting down with one group and I explained to them the purpose of small group through a football metaphor. I asked them if they could be one of the greatest football players ever and all they needed was 1 or 2 more skills, would they not do everything in their power to acquire those skills? That seemed to resonate with them, and I hope it still does. The smartest people go after the knowledge they still do not have. They don’t sit around being content not to have it.

I guess that’s the real talk in the classroom, the tough conversations that oftentimes happen in the classroom. But honesty that stems from love and care is necessary for upward movement. Some facts are uncomfortable, but the sooner we face them, the sooner we get to move on.

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