Mississippi Teacher Corps

Monday, January 15, 2007

"When are we gonna study again?"

There are a few students that I've made special efforts to help. One of them is Kelly. After about the second week of school, Kelly's mom requested a conference with all of Kelly's teachers. Based on what Kelly's mom and other teachers said, Kelly is not a very good student, doesn't work hard, and isn't very motivated. She's not a classroom management issue, but she struggles in school. Kelly's mom was concerned that Kelly doesn't do her homework, and I offered to call Kelly's mom each week to tell her what homework assignments Kelly would have that week (I've worked out a similar system with at least five parents). I've been calling Kelly's mom each week and have become fairly close with her; she called me once to ask if I could tell her any web sites that might help her with her nephew's science fair project.
Just before break, at the beginning of exams week, I made an announcement to all of my classes that I would be at Pizza Hut one evening holding "office hours" for anyone who wanted help studying for the nine weeks exam (and no, I will not buy you pizza, but if you want pizza and bring your own money, that's cool). I stole the Pizza Hut idea from a friend of mine who does TFA in the area. It sounded like a great idea to me; it would encourage students who needed help to seek it out, and would give me an opportunity to connect with them outside of school where I could be less serious and talk to them about things other than science. Those are two things that I'd really like to do a lot more of, but I've struggled to convince students to come for help outside of the school day.
Fifteen minutes after the set meeting time, not a single student had shown up, and I started to get very discouraged. Then, Kelly walked in the door. We ordered food for her (she decided to get the exact same pasta dish I'd ordered after asking what I'd be eating) and then sat down. She was the only student who showed up, which was very disappointing, but ended up giving me a really great opportunity to work with her. As we waited for our food, we chatted about nothing in particular; Kelly told me about her family, what she wanted for Christmas, and how she'd been really embarrassed when she sang at church and her boyfriend was there. After the food came, I turned the conversation to science. I asked her what she would like to study, and she didn't have any clear ideas of where to start. After a little prodding, she mentioned that she was a little confused about some of the genetics stuff, and showed me how she thought she was supposed to draw a Punnett sqaure. I realized pretty quickly that she was completely confused, so I started going through the genetics unit from the beginning and making sure she understood every part. Once I made sure she had the fundamentals down, I started drilling her, giving her Punnett square problem after Punnett square problem to practice, scrawling on the Pizza Hut napkins. I ended up taking one napkin and listing a step-by-step process for her to follow when doing one of the problems (which ended up being pretty useful for me, since I soon decided to give those steps to all my students).
After we'd been reviewing for a while, she made a comment that went something like, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, does it ever happen to you that you're helping your friend, or your friend is helping you, and you feel really good about it, but then later you don't know what to do?" I wasn't quite sure what she was getting at (was this a question about studying, or about life lessons?), and after asking her more about it, I realized she meant that she would study with a friend for a test, think that she knew the material, and then sit down to take the test and draw a blank. I asked her if, when she studied for a test, she would ever try to do a problem on her own, without looking at her notes or asking a friend, and checking to see if she could do it correctly. Kelly said, "Yes. Oh, you mean before taking the test? No." Bingo. We had a little conversation about study techniques, and I wrote a new Punnett square problem on a napkin that I told her to take home, attempt later that night on her own, and show to me the next day.
After we'd been there for a while, Kelly's mom showed up with Kelly's two-year-old sister, Carrie, whom I'd just heard all about from Kelly. Carrie's probably the cutest toddler I've ever seen. She walked up to me, said, "Hi Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, I'm Carrie," and proceeded to talk about all kinds of random things. I was amazed by her vocabulary and powers of articulation. I talked to Kelly's mom, who had just stopped by to see how much longer we'd be studying. She told me that she was fine with Kelly staying longer, because she desperately needed help studying. I asked Kelly what she wanted to do, and Kelly said, "I want to keep studying." I'm popping my collar a little bit at this point. I told her mom that if she felt comfortable, I could drive Kelly home when we were done studying so that Kelly's mom could get home (she's a single parent with a two year old, so I figured this could help her a lot), and Kelly's mom agreed. I studied for a while more with Kelly, and finally had to tell her that I needed to get home. As we walked out to my car, Kelly asked, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, when are we gonna study again?" Now I'm really popping my collar.
On the drive home, I let Kelly play with the tracks on the mix CD in my stereo, and she was endlessly amused by the fact that I had "Laffy Taffy" on it. When I dropped her off, her mom invited me to come in and see the living room. I told Kelly's mom that I'd heard from Kelly that the mom used to go to the blues club just down the street from my house, and I started asking Kelly's mom about it and told her that she should come out there some time. This conversation prompted a little giggling from Kelly; the idea of a teacher having some kind of social life outside of school is pretty funny when you're in seventh grade.
The Monday that we got back from break, Kelly found me in the cafeteria and asked when I would be at Pizza Hut again to study. I told her I'd do it again before the next major test. She came and found me later that day to tell me, "I'm dead serious about what I asked you at lunch. I'm gonna get my friends to come this time, too." A few other kids have asked me when I'll be at Pizza Hut again. Finally, something's getting through.
On a side note, the students are acting much more receptive to me these days. A few kids are coming by my room after school to get help or just hang out, and since break, the students have been on much better behavior. They're also coming to me for hugs now. That's a lot more fun than giving detentions.
Now playing: Jason Aldean- Amarillo Sky


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