Just When I’d Given Up by Madeline Richer

I’d nearly given up on Moriah.  Sure, we teachers say we never give up on a kid, and to an extent, that’s true – I’ll never stop trying to engage a student in my classroom – but far too often I find myself feeling hopeless about individual students.  Moriah reminds me of a cat: she prefers to sit in solitude in a corner of the classroom, avoids interaction with most humans, and wrinkles her nose disdainfully when asked to extend herself academically or socially.  I’d sat with Moriah for entire class periods, provided her with graphic organizers, encouraged her to share her ideas, partnered her with empathetic peers, and praised even the  tiniest bit of progress.  I’d even bribed her with chocolate, and yet she still refused to speak up in class, still neglected to complete assignments.  She’d respond to most questions, whether 1:1 or in a group, with a simple “I don’t know” even when I knew for a fact she did know.

And then, around 5:30 one afternoon, I received a text: “Do I still need to bring a poster for ELA?”

I give out my cell phone number to students and their parents because not all families have reliable access to the Internet, and I try to make myself as available as possible to students and their families at all times.  Plenty of teachers would consider this too far a blending of work and life, and with good reason. As far as I’m concerned, though, if a text during my “off” hours is what will make the difference between a student doing homework or not, then by all means, please text me.

Moriah’s text referred to a project due earlier that day in class.  I’d already accepted that once again, she had neglected to complete the assignment.  But now, a small cloud of hope began to form in my chest.  I texted back, reminding her that it was due today.  Less than two minutes later, my phone buzzed again:

“Could I still bring it?”

I don’t know what inspired Moriah, that day, to suddenly want to get credit for an assignment she’d left completely to the last minute.  I encouraged her to text me a photo of her poster that night so she wouldn’t lose points for being late and sure enough, four hours later, I received a text with a photo of her completed poster.  It was pretty well done, too.

Finally, through 21st-century technology, I’d achieved a mini-victory with Moriah.  In the weeks that followed, I’d receive the occasional text, “what’s for homework?” and “could I type my reflections?” Once, she sent me a photo of a writing piece she’d completed to make sure she’d done the heading correctly.  I truly believe that if I hadn’t made myself available by text message, Moriah might not be passing English class this year.  She’s painfully shy, AND she’s an English Language Learner with a Learning Disability, a combination of obstacles that impedes her from having the confidence she’d need to raise her hand to ask a clarifying question. Technology gave her the medium she needed to advocate for herself and ask the questions she needed to ask. .

The things that make or break a teacher’s ability to reach a kid can be so… random.  We work so hard to refine our instructional practices according to pedagogical research, but sometimes it really just comes down to these haphazard discoveries about individual students.

I wonder what random discoveries I’ve failed to make about my other nearly-hopeless students.





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