Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If You Get Their Heart...

Along with birthday wishes, a former student sent me an e-mail  stating she is failing trig miserably.  My heart went out to her.  I met Riha my last term at Packemin.  She was in the 3rd term of a 4 term algebra sequence.  The year before her teacher left on a medical leave and the class did not get a regular teacher until the end of the semester.  The kids were passed on based on a ridiculous uniform final, an exam where they all had access to the questions and answers way before they had to take it.  Riha was one of the many who knew nothing entering the class.

Little by little Riha's math skills improved.  In fact, they improved to the point where she was getting 85 or higher on my exams and she got an 83 on the regents.  Her parents were thrilled.  She was studying at home and talking positively about her math class, something she had never done before.  Believe me, this change did not come easily.  First, I had to make sure she  (and others) understood what was going on in class and, at the same time enjoyed what they were doing.  This was no easy feat.  Anyone who has ever taught a class like this knows these classes are full of kids who are behavior problems and who don't want to go to class, to say nothing of their limited math skills.  Then, I spent almost every lunch period sitting on the floor outside the cafeteria (only place to work and, it was a good place to catch kids walking by who needed help) working with her and others.

Riha has a good math teacher now but he is young and inexperienced and hasn't yet learned the best ways to grab kids like this and get them to learn and like what they are learning.  The rigid text book approaches have failed these kids for years.  They won't, on their own go home and study.  The teacher doesn't know that first he has to get to the kid's heart, the brain comes after.

I would like nothing more than to go back to Packemin and help all the Riha's get through trig, or at least learn enough so when they have to retake it in college, they will succeed.  I can't do that.  I can't bring myself to go back into the toxic environment I left behind.  I can't help a man who abused me improve his statistics and get his big bonus.  I feel bad that the damage he did to me is extending to the students left behind but that's life.  I am sure there are other retired teachers like myself who have the time and the desire to keep on helping but are too burnt to return.

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