IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.” WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER. AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR.
Q: I am a teacher in a self-contained sixth grade class. A female student in my class is openly defiant and often highly disruptive. Although she is learning on grade level, she often under - achieves. Her parents have placed her in therapy. She sees our guidance counselor three times a week. The school has suspended her repeatedly. But nothing has altered her performance. Can you offer any assistance?
A: I often tell teachers to have a plan (that involves no one else) to address the needs of unruly students. However, this girl is apparently beyond even the regular concept of poor behavior. In my own experience, highly disruptive students have deep-seated resentment. I recommend that you privately converse with this child and ask if her behavior makes her happy. If she is not really happy, you can build on how the school and you as her teacher can improve her learning experience. Most students want to be successful in their schooling. Make the necessary adjustments to create an environment in which she can reasonably function. In some way reward her for improvement and let her be a main cog in her development. Please, write back to me about the development in this matter.
Q: One of the fifth-graders at my school (I’ll call him “John,” but that’s not his real name) suffers from slight ADHD. As his guidance counselor, I recommended that he be allowed to leave his classes on a daily basis for approximately 10-15 minutes to use the lavatory and wander the halls of the school as long as he is not problematic. The teachers were ecstatic with this idea, and even his classmates were happy that he would regularly leave during classes. Unfortunately, John’s grades, which were always poor, have gone down. I now wonder if we made the right decision about this student. What do you think?
A: Although it might have offered immediate relief to John’s circumstances, I strongly believe that you have set a dangerous precedent. Instead of permitting John to walk out of his learning environment frequently, your teachers should identify methods in which he can learn at his own rate. As he adjusts to his new situation, find ways to reward and praise him. Your school’s decision circumvents good teaching practice. Practically speaking, John should not be permitted to simply exit his class more than once or twice in total.
Q: I’ve been a high school science teacher for 25 years. My methods of lecturing for the entire period; providing assignments and assessing my student’s via quizzes, tests and exams have been extremely successful with my advanced placement classes and my other honor roll students. After they graduate, 100 percent (and I mean that literally not as hyperbole) of my students go on to college. Many of my colleagues are trying your group learning methods, and while they are getting good results, I’ve told them that I am unwilling to alter my methods. Frankly, Mr. Cooper, I’m too successful doing things my way. What do you have to say to that?
A: The quality of your students in most cases can function very nicely with your traditional style. I am one of those people who believe that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, may I suggest that for a given project, try placing your students in teams and permitting them to learn together. As you would with one of your classes, evaluate this experience. If you find that my group learning method has value to your students, try it occasionally when you see fit. Either way, it is always a treat to hear from a happy teacher.
If you would like to write to Gary for advice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org