Mississippi Teacher Corps

Friday, January 04, 2008

Favorite Students

We were prompted to describe one of our favorite students. I thought about this topic for a while and decided to write about three of my favorite students. Here are the Breakfast Club-style descriptions of these three boys: the smart quiet kid who most teachers probably like, the boy who looks like he's about 8 years old and is severely lacking in some basic academic skills, and the juvenile delinquent "three-peater." The second two probably sound like weird choices, and it probably seems weirder that I'm grouping these kids together. As it happens, I have all of them in my 5th period class, and unlikely as it seems, they always choose to work together on any group assignments. I chose to write about all three of them because what I like best about them is how they help each other.

I'll start by describing the first one: the smart, quiet kid. He has the highest average in my class, and is the male student I took to the Ole Miss game (see previous blog). This kid never fails to amaze me. Every single time I give a test, he's the only one who makes a perfect score (others come close, but he's always just that little bit ahead). He's very shy, but always pleasant and cooperative. I think what surprised me most about this kid was when I took him to the Ole Miss game and he started telling me about his grades in other classes. He had a few A's, a few B's, and a C (in math! How did that happen?) After spending the day with him and the two other students I took to Ole Miss, I was very glad I'd decided to take him, because I realized that while the two girls had been recognized as excellent students by their teachers and families, I might have been the first teacher to tell this kid how smart he really is. He strikes me as extremely mature in that he has concerns for other people in a way that most of his classmates are not yet able to. I'll always remember how he said he felt sorry for the other kids in my class who didn't get to go to the football game with us, and how he asked me if I could take the kids with 100's for the second nine weeks to another game, so that he and the two girls could go again, but this time, even more kids would get to go because they would make 100's.

Next: the kid who is very, very behind in school. This kid is very easy to like. For one thing, he's adorable: he looks like he's 8 years old and talks in a very soft voice that makes him sound young. He's the only kid that actually whispered instead of talking in a normal (or quiet) voice when we went to the library. He's earnest, sweet, and also quite shy. In a lot of ways, he just seems like a little child to me. This view of him is spurred by the fact that the first time he told me he needed help with a long division problem, I realized he couldn't do single-digit subtraction and ended up asking him to hold up his fingers and use them to count as a way to do subtraction. At this point, you're probably wondering why this kid is one of my favorite students (after all, a likable person and a favorite student are not the same thing). The reason he's one of my favorite students is because he's surprised me with how much progress he's made. He barely passed the first nine weeks of my class (he made a 74, which was the highest grade on his report card) despite working hard the whole time and even coming after school to check on a missing assignment; he was just so behind that I couldn't see much hope for him and just kept wondering how he even made it to 7th grade. I spent as much time working with him one on one during class as I could, but worried that I was coming along too late in his academic life to help. The first student that I mentioned, just out of the goodness of his heart, took to helping this kid with his work, especially anything involving math. The last time I averaged grades, he had around a 90 in my class. His hard work finally started paying off, and I don't know how to explain it, but one day, things just started clicking for him. A few months ago, this kid told me that 10-8 = 7, and now he can do long division. Better yet, his self-confidence has increased. When I ask for volunteers to read or answer a question, his hand is often the first one up.

And, my least likely favorite student: the three-peater. I taught this kid last year, too, and if I'd made a list of my 10 least favorite students last year, he probably would have been on it. Last year, he missed three months straight of school, around which he had other extended absences. After this went on for a long time, the attendance officer finally caught up with him, and he was locked away in the juvenile detention center for a while. After he got out of the detention center, I spent my days hoping he'd just skip school so that I wouldn't have to deal with him throwing things, hitting kids, sleeping in class (that was on a good day), and doing everything except what I wanted him to do. I don't know how many times I sent him to the office. When I got my rosters at the beginning of this year, I found his name on my list and groaned. I wondered why they didn't switch him over to the other seventh grade hall, and the other seventh grade science teacher (who had him two years ago) said that he was like "salt in a wound." Despite all my negative feelings toward this kid last year, I'd recognized that he was smart. The first few weeks of this year, he goofed around and didn't seem like he was going to do much better. I'm not sure when he started acting better, although I do remember him staying after school one day to help me put away the classroom microscopes. I also remember another day when he came to school late, with no backpack, and put his head down on a desk once he entered my classroom. When I came over to see what was up, he told me he had nothing to write with, and I gave him a pencil. He worked hard for the rest of class. At any rate, somewhere near the beginning of this year, he became one of my favorite students. These days, he comes to school every day and often stays after. He works hard on all the assignments I give him in class, and even gets together with his study buddies (the two students I mentioned above) before tests to study outside of school. I told him that if he kept working this hard, I'd consider him for my Star Student award. He earned it, and his mother is proud of him. I'll never forget how happy he looked the first time I told him he was averaging an "A" in my class. But what really made me happy was the day he came to me after class and asked what he would need to do to join the science club. He's on the team now, and never fails to tell me every Tuesday that he's staying after for the science club. Then, he asked me if I had a book (not the textbook) that he could take home and read on his own to learn more about science. That night, I went home, found my "Pocket Science Facts" book, and gave it to him the next day. That book was a gift to me, and I happen to really like it. I trust him to take care of it, though.

Each time I give a major test, I pass out study questions the day before that students spend the class period answering. They may use their notes, books, me, and each other to find the answers. My favorite part about these review days is watching these three boys work in a group together. If one of them was absent on a particular day, the other two will make sure he gets the notes that he missed. While I need to practically sit on some of my students to make sure that they are talking about their study questions instead of whatever else is going on in their lives, these three will sit together and explain the material to each other and actually seem happy doing it! Once they've answered their study questions, I can hear them quizzing each other to commit the hard facts to memory. If only all my students treated each other this well.

Now playing: Kraftwerk- We are the Robots
Note: Anyone who personally knows me and wants to see a picture of these 3 kids doing the lab together, e-mail me. In the interests of anonymity, I can't post it on my blog.


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