I must be doing something wrong, Dept.

Reading comments about teaching on social media is similar to reading about various maladies and diseases in a medical book. You come away thinking you have every one of the illnesses. Similarly, the pithy do’s and don’t’s from various authorities, distilled to one sentence leave me (and others) with the feeling of “Guilty as charged; I must change how I do things.”

Recently, a well known blogger and author quoted another well known figure among the edu-literati Katherine Birbalsingh who is headmistress of the Michaela School in London. The school is well known for getting good results for its students, many of whom come from low-income families and who would otherwise do poorly in other schools.

So of course I took it to heart when I saw her quote:

Always judge yourself by the bottom 5 kids in the class, not the top 5

This is the type of quote which, if you question it, makes you look like a jerk. So I’ll go out on a limb here and take a chance. Many people think I’m a jerk anyway, so I have little to lose.

Snippets like this don’t tell the whole picture/ I’ve taught classes with math deficits and severe immaturity levels. My current Math 7 class is one. Now among my bottom five, one boy took off Friday and Monday (with no advance notice to the school) with two other boys in the class, with his father to go to some cabin. Neither he nor his friends were up on what we were doing in class, despite a review when they came back. They did poorly on the quiz I gave that week.

I’m a firm believer in the parable of the lost sheep–do you tend the 99 who are obeying or go after the one who goes astray? I try my best, and sometimes that’s all you can do. On the other hand, a girl with significant deficits, has done quite well in my class. Another girl who is doing poorly because she cannot remember procedures (not even plays in basketball) continues to do poorly. Her mother refuses to have her tested for fear of her being segregated and put in lower level classes. (I sympathize; even if she gets special ed assistance, there is little to no chance that anyone with expertise in learning disabilities will provide help, other than to provide more time on tests, and other things that don’t address the underlying problem).

As my “parole officer” Diane said (in last chapter of my latest book), when I remarked that you can lead a horse to water: “You dragged them, kicking and screaming.” And sometimes that’s the real truth despite what the glorified experts on social media say.

Regarding the pithy quote from Ms Birbalsingh; to use the parlance of Twitter: “It lacks nuance.”


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