One of my proudest accomplishments came during my first year as a new middle school teacher. I was hired to teach Spanish, but because I did not have a full load, I also had to teach a section of Language Arts and 6th grade math.
I really had no idea of what I was doing.
I was hired under alternative certification and was just starting all of my teacher training. My math class had 12 students in it, all of whom were testing at the 3rd grade level or below in math. (This is one of the MAJOR flaws in what we do in public ed – all too frequently we put the highest need students with lower skilled teachers like I was at that time.)
The students in my class were terrific children. Not knowing what else to do, I spent some time with each of them getting to know them and trying to understand what they liked/disliked about math. I also asked what they were good at and what areas of math they struggled. They were all able to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
I put aside the 6th grade math textbook and curriculum and worked with them where they were.
One day I was speaking with one of the students, a special needs student, who I will call Kevin. I was trying to keep him motivated as he struggled with math. With that in mind, I asked him what he would like as a reward for his hard work. He said he would like to play basketball with me after school one day. In doing the same with a few other students, they indicated they struggle with understanding how math was important in life.
I put the two together and came up with an idea to find some business partners in the community who could help my class see the significance of math and to also work to develop personal relationships with them by playing basketball on Wednesdays after school.
I found an engineering firm that was willing to send three employees over every Wed after school. They sat and worked individually with the students on their math skills and when appropriate, relating it to their work world. We did 45 minutes of math then the prize was 30 mins of basketball in the school gym. The gym was all to ourselves!
The students LOVED it! In fact, they loved it so much that I had other teachers and students asking to join in. This may sound selfish, but I did not allow others in. This was “our” thing and it required special relationships between me, the students and our business partners.
We met every Wed throughout the year. It was amazing to see the students blossom and grow in their math confidence. Equally so, it was so nice to see the students connect strongly with the business partners. The partners were equally energized and brought special treats and gifts for the students.
When the big day came toward the end of the year for the TAAS test (TX). My students, who typically dreaded tests, felt like they were ready.
When we got the results back, 11 of the 12 students passed the 6th grade math test!
Remember, they came in at the 3rd grade level. The one student who didn’t pass the test was Kevin, who I previously mentioned. He missed a passing score by two questions. (I have tears in my eyes remembering this.)
When Kevin saw his score, I was expecting him to be disappointed and frustrated. I was wrong.
When he saw it, a big smile came across his face and he put his fist in the air and said, “This is fantastic! It is the best I have ever done!” We high-fived each other and celebrated his accomplishment.
Over the summer we had a party for the math class that was sponsored by our business partners. About eight employees came to the party and showered the students with praise, gifts, food, and most importantly, friendship and love.
This was certainly one of my most rewarding educational endeavors.
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