Looking for Lessons When Your Students Fail
With our school days down to that nice round number 10, it can be difficult to focus on anything other than the light at the end of the tunnel that represents summer vacation. While the students are definitely antsy, I don't think they fully grasp how soon the year will be ending. We teachers don't have that luxury. So in the meantime, I'm fighting two very conflicting and equally strong impulses - throw my hands up and kill time or pack in as much as I can into two weeks.
Today I wasn't given much choice over how to spend the day. Yesterday we were told which students met the cut-off scores for the state exams, and who would need to attend summer school. That meant today I had to assemble promotional portfolios for these students. These portfolios are meant to show that in spite failing the ELA or math exam, these students are still at level 2, i.e. approaching grade level. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case for most of my kids who failed, since the majority are ELL's, including several newcomers. While all the students in this group made significant progress, most are reading at an early first grade level.
However, there were two surprises. Two of my students who I consider "high 2's" or even 3's didn't mean the cut-off. It's these students for whom the promotional portfolios are especially important. So setting my shock aside, I set out on getting their portfolios ready.
At the end of the day I'd put together eight portfolios in all. The process of assessing the students individually and organizing their work while keeping 26 other students occupied was exhausting and stressful. At the end of the day I read over one of my lowest student's writing piece, a girl who will most likely repeat the third grade.
This is a girl who has been in my school since kindergarten, and while her reading improved from a level B to level G this year (from kindergarten to first), she still hasn't grasped phonemic awareness. This makes her writing difficult to understand, but I could make out the general idea of her piece which was about our classroom.
"I love school and learning and school is awesome and Mr. Brosbe is the best."
It felt like a punch to the stomach. One of the most amazing parts of teaching elementary school is the practically unconditional love and trust of the students. If you keep them safe, show you care, and help them learn just a little, you're their favorite teacher ever. Until they move on to their next teacher, and the next. It's cute and endearing, but in this case, juxtaposed against my failure to do more for this girl, it was heart wrenching.
I hope that I can take some pride and consolation in the knowledge that I've instilled a love of learning in this girl that I hope will last. I hope that by advocating for this girl to repeat third grade, I'm advocating for her best interests, and giving her a chance to catch up.
This time of year is tough, because even as we as teachers seek a nice happy ending to provide closure to months of tireless effort, life sometimes interferes with unpleasant realities. Sulking or self-flagellation will not get us far though. We can only take these truths along with the many points of pride, and use them to do better.