It’s week two of summer school, and the days left to standards needing to be taught ratio weighs on me like the oversized shoulder bag of resources I carry to class each morning. I’ve said it before, but even after just a week the two dozen middle school students have already taught me so much — I just hope they’re learning something from me too.
Mostly, they’ve taught me the importance of the clarity of a lesson. While teaching a skill, I look to student faces for ‘aha’ moments or some sort of grasp of understanding. While middle school math makes sense to me, I’ve found myself realizing I’ve skipped a few steps in a process out of habit. It’s been a challenge to dig deep into the skills to find the most simplest way to get my point across.
My most exciting moments have been watching a student go from complete frustration and desperation to smiling at themselves and being able to say, “I really think I’m getting this.” I want nothing more than to scream and shout and jump up and down when this happens. Sometimes I do — some of these kids need a personal cheerleader.
The summer and their academic status in math became very real for the students at the end of the first week when progress reports were sent home. I heard one young lady say she was proud of herself. Then there was one young man who saw his 32 % score on the math diagnostic assessment. He looked defeated yet confused, saying, “That’s bad, right?.” It was in that very moment that the summer also became very real for me. I had only known these kids for four days, but seeing their reactions to successes and setbacks exposed them in a very raw light.
The biggest challenge I’ve had is battling the gap that glares back at me during the middle or even start of a lesson. Some of the students look at me and ask why we’re learning such easy stuff, while others stare back puzzled. I’m constantly pulled in different directions trying to differentiate. It angers me that some of the students are struggling to learn some of the pre-algebra concepts because they can barely add two numbers, with a sum less than 10, on their fingers.
And in those moments I’m reminded of why I chose to do this for the summer. When I look at these kids, halfway through their education careers, I see years of confusion and frustration piled up. Those skills left unmastered have cumulated and will continue to cumulate until somebody does something about it. I believe they’re now in a school where their educators care deeply about their futures and can motivate them and help them move forward, hoping to make up for lost time. But for me, I see why it’s more important than ever to get my 5 and 6 year olds completely solid in their foundational skills. Why it will be crucial for them to move beyond those minimal benchmarks and strive for high expectations. It would be heartbreaking to fast-forward seven or eight years and find them in a setting where they’re struggling to make it grade to grade. But it’s not about my empathy or hurt at all. It’s about these kids, and it’s just not fair to them.