Mississippi Teacher Corps

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This post is for Keisha

I'd be lying if I said that the past 6 weeks haven't been difficult and at times really disheartening. Right now, I feel that I'm failing many of my students. I do mean failing in the literal sense (an embarrasing percentage are earning below 70% in my class), but also failing in the sense that they aren't responding to my teaching. The vast majority of my students failed my first test (and I mean some of them failed as in earning 8% or so), and I feel really disheartened when I ask a question and students just respond with a random unrelated term that they happen to remember from a recent lesson (e.g. "What organelle helps plant cells make energy from the sun?" "Oooh, ooh! Selectively permeable!") I feel like a complete failure sometimes, but I'm still going strong. Even though I still feel like so many of my students just aren't understanding what I'm teaching, once every few days, I'll see evidence of some student I've reached, some lightbulb going on in someone's head, and that's what keeps me going. Just this past week, I had perhaps my most powerful teaching moment with one of my students. I'll just call her "Keisha."
This story wouldn't mean much without the relevant background information. On the first day at school with all classes meeting, Keisha showed up in my fourth period class. The first assignment I had all my students do was to fill out a student information sheet. A girl in the class approached me and asked, "Can I help her write hers? She's slow," gesturing toward Keisha. I told her that she could. I watched Keisha struggle to even write her own name on her paper. Later in the period, I had all students write an essay about respect, and I allowed the two girls to work together. I then invited students to read their essays to the class, and Keisha volunteered. She came up to the front of the room with her friend, who held the sheet of paper and pointed to one word at a time for Keisha to read. The result was a painfully slow recital of the essay that lacked any rhythm or inflection, and I remember just looking around the room and thinking that I would want to kick anyone who dared to make fun of Keisha (to the credit of my other students, no one did). We have lunch during fourth period, so I had to take this whole class to the cafeteria and eat with them. I noticed that Keisha walked with a bit of difficulty and spoke very slowly, with a speech impediment. She sat next to me at lunch and smiled at me. At some point during the meal, she picked the juice box off of her tray, held it out to me, and said very slowly, "I brought you some juice." For reasons that I can't even explain, that just broke my heart. After school, I asked the special ed teacher about Keisha, and the special ed teacher told me that the school didn't have her accomodations so no one really knew anything about Keisha yet, but that she had heard a rumor that Keisha had been very sick the past year and missed school, had been very bright before she fell ill, and had returned to school the way she is now. At the end of the day, I explained this story to one of my roommates and found myself saying, "It's so unfair!" I actually started crying when I explained Keisha to my roommate. This is the only time I've actually cried since school started.
Over the past few weeks, I've become very attached to Keisha. She sits next to me every day at lunch and does incredibly sweet things, like cleaning up my trash for me without being asked to do so and bringing me napkins. I continued to struggle with how to help her. I've frequently asked the special ed teacher assigned to work with her about what I can do for Keisha, but this teacher has offered me nothing more than, "Well, I still don't have her IEP [individualized education plan]." I felt sad watching her in class and wondering how to teach a student who can write approximately one word per minute.
About a week and a half ago, Keisha missed school one day. The next day, she was at school, and while I was eating lunch with her, she mentioned that her stomach hurt. I had her drink some water, but she said that it still hurt, and said that she had missed school the day before because of her stomach. Tears started welling up in her eyes. "Keisha, what's wrong?" I asked. "My stomach hurts." I asked her if anything else was wrong, if she'd like to go the the guidance counselor, if she'd like me to see if the nurse could see her, etc., but she answered no to all of those questions. She said that she would call her momma to pick her up, but when I offered to let her go to the office and use the phone, she said she'd wait until 5th period, after my class ended.
The next day, both of Keisha's parents came by the school and wanted to talk to me. As soon as I finished my last class of the day, I met with Keisha and her parents in the office. Her mother was concerned that Keisha had been complaining about her stomach for a few days, yet had nothing apparently physically wrong with her, and suspected that Keisha was stressed out about school. I told her mother that I was very glad she came to the school because I had been hoping I could talk to her and figure out how to help Keisha better. Keisha's mom told me that just that day, she had physically brought Keisha's IEP to the school because for some stupid reason, a month into the school year, the school still hadn't received it from Keisha's elementary school, which is in the same district! She made a copy of the IEP for me, and we discussed Keisha's situation. Her mother informed me that Keisha has some sort of brain damage that started affecting her when she was five and caused her to forget everything that she'd learned up to the age of five. Keisha's handwriting, walking, and speech are still improving, and she functions at the level of a fourth grader but must be tested at grade level. Keisha's father suggested to me that they buy a tape recorder for Keisha to record my class, which I thought was a great idea, and I got the OK from my principal.
The following week, Keisha switched her schedule. It turns out that she was supposed to be in self-contained (that means with other special education students only) classes for at least math, reading, and English, but the school had put her in regular classes because they didn't have her IEP. Keisha wanted to stay in my class, though, so she did. I noticed an improvement in her performance. Keisha began raising her hand in class more frequently, and, here's the great part, answering my questions correctly! I could see a huge grin break across her face every time that happened. I'm not even sure how to express how proud I am of her. I called her over to my desk at the end of class, told her that she did really well, and gave her a small uninflated balloon.
This past Thursday, I attended my first PTSO meeting. At the end of the meeting, I saw Keisha and her mom talking to the guidance counselor, and I heard her mom telling the guidance counselor, "We love Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket." The guidance counselor smiled and responded, "So do we." That just made my week. I went over to talk to Keisha and her mom, and her mom told me that Keisha had seemed much better that week, and seemed to be adjusting better. She told me, "Keisha came home the past two days with a balloon, and I asked her where she got the balloon, and she told me she got it from Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket for doing well in class." I went on to say how proud I was of Keisha, and her mom said that they were, too.
It's for students like Keisha that I leave for school before sunrise every morning and deal with all the rest of it.
Now playing: Bonnie Rait- Angel from Montgomery


  • At 8:24 AM, Blogger Holly Golightly said…

    Though all the horribly inappropriate comments and failing grades, don't forget the ones like Keisha. You are making a difference; you are doing a wonderful job.


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