In the middle of Language Arts class on Tuesday, sweet little Desiree asked me if I could help her with her test corrections (the test our school district so graciously provides for all of us).
Um, yes! I will totally help her with that. She is the kindest, smartest, most hard-working ray of sunshine in that class from hell.
Wait— it’s Hell with a capital H for sure.
Don’t judge me! You KNOW you have a class like mine. Admit it.
But there are always a few very, very sweet babies in Hell that I so badly wish weren’t there with the rest of the riffraff.
Desiree is one of them, so back to her.
I had to pull my Tier 3 kids that day for guided reading (in 6th grade, people! Guided reading in 6th grade!!!) because it was Tuesday and God in Heaven forbid— FORBID— I don’t pull them for guided reading each and every Tuesday for exactly 20 minutes and document everything I do with them and how they do or do not progress.
Oh yeah. Sidetracked again.
Back to Desiree.
So I knew I absolutely could not help her with test corrections that day because of the pre-ordained guided reading time slot. I told her we would work on them tomorrow (since I do not have to do guided reading with Tier 3 on Wednesdays).
Let’s fast-forward to Wednesday.
Wednesday in that class was Hell on steroids. Suffice it to say that by the time Desiree and I had a chance to start working on her test corrections during small group time, we were only able to get one question done because of all the interruptions and chaos and yelling and drama and that sort of thing.
So it was basically a normal day.
(And yes, I have called, emailed, and conferenced in person multiple times with the “parents” of the worst offenders, and it makes no difference.) That’s a blog post for another day.
Anyway, so Desiree and I had to pick this up another time (she rides the bus to and from school and so tutoring outside of school hours isn’t going to happen).
That brings us to Thursday! I must, must, must do guided reading with Tier 3 students on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No helping Desiree on Thursday, either!!!
Hmmm… Desiree and I finally, FINALLY had a chance to work together on the other two questions she had to do on Friday. I pulled her to my small group table during the vocabulary quiz and instead of her doing the quiz, I helped her with test corrections. I told her she could take the quiz home and bring it back Monday. I just HAD to make time for her!!!
Satan’s three little minions were actually absent that Friday for whatever reason, and two other followers went home sick halfway through the day.
The remaining get-along gang then had nothing to do or look at except their quiz, and the one other kid who went nuts (like he has paperwork and everything) was called to the office for who knows what reason.
Oh yeah. And two other kids were in the “in school suspension” classroom for something that had happened at lunch.
So guess what?
Desiree and I got some test corrections done! She had only missed three questions out of 25 and certainly wasn’t failing or anything like that. She just wanted to do her corrections and raise her grade even more.
But she asked me on Tuesday to help her with the three questions and it took until Friday along with eight of the worst kids ever actually not being in the room for me to help her.
Why do we act like this is ok? It’s not!
When Desiree and I finished, she genuinely thanked me for helping her and for making time for her.
I made time for her?
But I didn’t.
I waited until guided reading was done. I waited until a quiz day when it would be quiet(er). I waited until one-fourth of the class was gone.
Why didn’t I put her first, as soon as she asked?
(Because ABC XYZ 123 come first in the eyes of our school district)!
She wanted my help. She wanted to learn more. She wanted to raise her grade.
She smiles every day. She gives me hugs. She works really hard.
Why didn’t I put her first?
Because the school district tells me which kids I have to do which activities with and then document it all?
Because so many horrible little devil children take all my time and energy?
Because as teachers, we have been so conditioned to “bridge the gap” that we also have to ignore both terrible and wonderful behavior so that our paperwork is in order for the vocal few who blame everyone except themselves?
“Well,” says every John Doe who works in admin, “We just do what’s best for kids. We don’t teach content. We teach kids.”
That is such crap! What does that even mean?
You know what I do now?
If I pull Tier 3 kids for guided reading twice a week, I’m pulling Tier 1 kids twice a week, too. That means I’m pulling Desiree and others like her just as much as every other student. She doesn’t need remediation, but she needs to be pushed and challenged and loved.
If I pull horrible kids who truly do need the help but I only spend my time with them telling them to turn around, sit back down, stop folding paper, etc. etc. I document it.
I document it BIG TIME.
(Like… Here’s the plan for the guided reading session with all the state standards and objectives and goals for the day… And here’s what actually happened.)
Yeah. I write that down and into the file it’ll go (that no one will even look at I’m sure, but it’s there, and it’s the truth).
Then I pull the kids who want the help. I pull the kids who are asking for help, who need it, and who are excited to get to work with me because it’s a small group setting and for that set amount of time, I belong to them.
They get my full attention. I document what we work on, and then we set a day and a time for our next small group session.
Now I am NOT saying that if you’re Tier 1 you’re a good student and if you’re Tier 3 you’re a hellion. That’s a generalization that is wrong and unethical to assume. I have some extremely sweet “Desiree’s” who are very much Tier 3 kids right now, but they are working hard and we are getting things done. They are progressing.
Likewise, I have some Tier 1 students in that class who are horrible.
So I’m just saying that if we’re truly “doing what’s best for kids”, then we need to be ok with actually doing that, even if it’s not what our district or building administrators saaaaay to do.
Doing what’s best for kids means that if I am forced by my superiors to have small group bridging-the-gap sessions with a particular set of kids, for a predetermined amount of time, then I’m going to give my higher-level students the same amount of time for their needs.
I challenge you to do the same.
We can’t ignore our middle- to higher-level students just because our superiors are freaking out about closing the achievement gap.
I refuse to “close the achievement gap” by raising the low ones and ignoring the middle or higher ones because of mandatory minutes and documentation.
I challenge you to do this with me.
Not every campus or district is like this, but if your school forces you to cater to the lowest common denominator, then you need to ignore those asinine directives and equally cater to the middle and higher ones, too, because that’s what is RIGHT.
This doesn’t mean more work for you.
It simply means that you can’t do as much with the lower level students. It does mean, however, that you will simply divide your time equally between all students.
And if we’re doing what’s best for students, then we need to do what’s best for ALL students.
Not what’s best (theoretically) for just some students.
When you do what’s right for kids, you’ll sleep better at night.
In turn, that will ensure that you can live life first, then teach.