A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Black Widow

George Bernard Shaw's oft quoted observation that all the cool people are in Hell is analogous to how middle school students become drawn into cliques where rude behavior is celebrated, and daily put-downs directed towards "nerds" who actually want to learn and teachers who want to teach evokes nervous laughter from fellow students instead of condemnation. For students with learning disabilities, negative peer pressure, combined with years of frustration, often breeds self-hatred and false beliefs that "God hates me," or "I am stupid," or "I am just not good at Math," all convenient excuses for academic failure.

When 11 and 12 year old students with disabilities conclude, "I don't care," and their body language screams "I don't want to learn and you can't make me," where does responsibility for academic failure lie? What if, in fact, apathy has become the norm, and a true passion for learning is now actually the exception? Given, what seems to me, a developmentally inappropriate amount of one-size-fits-all pacing pressure inherent in the process, how is it possible to persuade every child that a positive academic future is important to them?

My natural tendency, given the mandate that I must produce results, was to utilize the median as the "best measure of center" in order to make instructional decisions of how best to marshal my resources of energy and time. I thus cast out my outliers and strove to build a critical mass of caring students by shifting resources away from those who showed they were incapable of caring and investing my time and energy to students proportionally based on receptivity. Considering the 38 point median point gain from my class's 5th grade state testing to their 6th grade results, a cohort which had a 17% pass rate in the 5th grade, given that 100% of my students who tested this year showed some growth, and over half of them passed, I think, once again, my numbers speak for themselves. Still I am in no mood for celebration because I am highly disappointed that certain students failed.

I realize that there may be unintended consequences of the quarantine strategy, which I adopted because, at the midpoint of the school year, given the chaos being introduced into my room on a daily basis by a few little monsters, I felt that the many were unable to access the curriculum. I did what I felt I had to do. Certain students arrive as "damaged goods," lacking skills or any self-respect or respect for others. Unless something changes drastically, these damaged children only become increasingly hardened in their identities as monsters. When my efforts to intervene only seemed to backfire, I retreated. Yesterday, I dubbed one little girl, whose father cried earlier in the year during an intervention meeting arranged by the Counselor, "the Black Widow." Elise could never look me in the eye after making a disparaging, disrespectful comment. One time, she claimed that I had "slammed the door on my hand." Another time she complained, "you spit on me." Kendell, who carried himself around the school like a Mafia Don now resides at a military academy. Pablo, once again cried crocodile tears on Thursday, "Please, please Mr. McKurland, I'm sorry," as I removed him from class after another student complained that Pablo had hit him as he entered the classroom. Peter, the other day, was unable to independently complete a worksheet with 2's, 5's, and 10's multiplication facts, and recently labeled his coordinate planes from 5 to 1 on the x+ axis, from -5 to -1 on the x- axis, from 5 to 1 on the y+ axis, an -5 to -1 on the y- axis, despite being provided a number line. I learned to not waste too much time with him, because both he and I knew that the curriculum was inappropriate for him.

I was given the opportunity by Administration to give over half of my students an extra week of remediation, which was offered because a number of students had done poorly on their Reading Tests -- we tested our remediation group yesterday -- I rearranged my room to put those who had tested in one spot, and clustered those who had not tested in threes. One student, who at the beginning of the year I described to his father at Starbucks as "the Poster Child for Learned Helplessness," started coming to my room every afternoon after scchool. With my help, Alan changed his grade from an F to an A. Another student, Justin, who hated math at the beginning of the year, whose parents I got to know after coming to his house a few times earlier in the year, finished the year collecting ratio data from a cup of Lucky Charms as well as a cup of Jolly Ranchers, which he used to create circle graphs and bar graphs, having changed his grade from a low C to an A over the past two weeks. He wanted more opportunities to practice! On Wednesday and Thursday evening, I worked with Ali at George Mason Library -- his attitude had slipped the past few weeks, and I was worried that I could no longer count on him to pass. Ali responded. Ms. London and I will take him to McDonald's if he passes! I can't wait to get the results!

Ulysses,who tested with the rest of the other 6th graders a week earlier, finally got the concept that he does not fit in with the cool kids, Kendel, Pedro, and Peter. Definitely, I made a difference.