We have had many challenges over the last four years. One of our first challenges was communication with his math teachers. We have had teachers respond very quickly, and we have had teachers not respond at all. Some teachers posted assignments and due dates online, and others did not. The lesson I learned about communication is it is a key element in helping students succeed. It was extremely difficult for me to assist George in succeeding without communication.
The next challenge we faced was my own challenge of having preconceived notions of how math facts should be learned. I, like many other teachers, believed using your fingers to count should be avoided. George struggled mightily, and I could see him practically hiding his fingers under the table so he could use them! This opened my eyes, and I changed my course of action. As well as I also remembered I had used my fingers for years to learn my multiplication factors of 9. The lesson I learned about pre-conceived notions is to throw them out, each student will learn in their own way!
We were also faced with the challenge of when to use a calculator. George had so much homework not just in math, but in all subjects, so we decided that using a calculator would be highly beneficial. His math homework was exceptionally repetitive and there were so many problems to complete. I would have George complete the first few without a calculator to make sure he understood how to complete the problems. Then I would allow him to use the calculator to save valuable time. This also taught him calculator skills which he did not have. In addition, to we talked about the importance of being able to solve problems without a calculator, but also discussed how using a calculator could help him focus on problem-solving. I explained to him these skills would be highly valued when he entered the workplace where using a calculator isn’t considered cheating. The lesson I learned about calculators is the use of a calculator is a skill and we need to teach this skill.
This year we were faced with another big challenge. George has ADHD and takes medicine to help control his symptoms. He takes his medicine in the morning and by the afternoon it is much less effective. Unfortunately, his math class is the last period of the day. This makes it immensely difficult for him to concentrate in the class where he struggles the most; this is not a good combination. This is the only math class available so there were no alternatives. Most days I would have to re-teach the lesson as well as having to help him complete his homework. The lesson I learned about class schedules is sometimes they are not flexible, and you just have to come up with solutions!
It has been wonderful to see George succeed in math although the road has been long and filled with challenges. He has taught me as many lessons as I have taught him.
I have again started tutoring a wonderful, young man who is a 7th grader. This time I’ll call him “Alex.” Alex is similar to George in that he is struggling with math, but unlike George who had a strong, stable home life, Alex until recently has been in a very unstable home environment.
Again, I face some of the same challenges as before. I am not only assisting Alex with math, but we work together on every subject. So, again communication with his teachers is one of the key factors in helping Alex succeed. Alex and George go to school in the same district, so grades and assignments are posted online, but as was the case with George, many of Alex’s teachers do not keep this up to date. I cannot stress how important it is for us to have this information updated. Alex is working very hard to become better organized and to use his agenda book to write down assignments, due dates, etc. He is getting better at this task. I have been working with him on the importance of these skills, but it is new for him. He was never taught these skills and the importance of being organized so we work very hard on these skills. Nevertheless, every once in awhile assignments do not get written down, and I depend on the teacher to post the assignment. If they are not posted, it usually results in an assignment being missed or late.
I would encourage all teachers to find tools that give whoever is working with their students, and in many cases, this is not the parents, a way to communicate with caregivers what the daily assignment is and when quizzes and tests are scheduled. It would be so beneficial to be able to go onto their website or to get a message. There are services such as Remind that can be used to quickly send out a message at one time. Many schools already have systems in place, but I cannot stress how important it is that they are being used and updated.
Just like George, Alex struggles with multiplication facts, so I am very grateful for the previous learning experience with George. My prior experience has been so beneficial in working with George, and he has picked up his multiplication facts so quickly.
One of the most important factors in working with Alex has been in building his self-esteem. His self-confidence had been battered, and he did not believe that he was smart, but he is incredibly smart. His grades were mostly F’s when I started working with him, and this semester he made the B honor roll. I think about this often and wonder how many more students like Alex are failing and are being left behind and falling through the cracks. Nothing changed at school, the item that changed was the support that he is now receiving outside of school, so what can be done? I don’t have many answers just many questions; I know that teachers are working as hard as they can. I just know that there are so many smart students like Alex that do not have the tools or support that they need to succeed.