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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Loveliest Child

This year, I have been blessed with a student who may be the nicest kid I’ve ever taught. Always prepared with an ear-to-ear smile and enormous enthusiasm, he is friendly to everyone even the mean kids. When he walks past my classroom door, he will pause and wave heartily, like he has been waiting to see me all day. When he arrives for class, he greets me as if we haven’t seen each other in years. No matter how challenging the lesson is for him, he works hard to understand. He is a walking ray of sunshine. Each day I am delighted to see him; if he is absent, I miss him. He’s the kind of kid you want to clone because then every school day would be a joy.

Also this year, I have been saddled with a student who cannot retain any information. Nothing, zippo, nada. I model it. I give him manipulatives. I’ve had other students tutor him. I’ve given him extra homework. I’ve given him no homework. I’ve let him investigate the topic using videos or computer games. I’ve kept him at lunch for private tutoring. If he does understand the lesson, it lasts only a short while and certainly not into the next day. He drives me crazy because he has made absolutely no lasting progress. When I see him, I see a walking “1” because that is the score he is going to get on his state exam.

Have you figured it out yet? It’s the same kid. The boy with the warmest heart can process information in the moment but not keep it or use it later. The mixed emotions he stirs in me, epitomize the current battle over my teacher’s soul. I want to appreciate and nurture all the children placed in my care but I also feel resentful when I think about how their test scores could drag down my evaluation.
One of the hallmarks of the education reform movement has been assessing teachers by measuring the progress of their students. Because I feel such tremendous pressure to show constant student growth for each and every child, I find it challenging to simply appreciate this young man's genius. Instead, I often see him as an obstacle to my being labeled an “effective teacher.”

And that makes me sick. It is not who I am as a teacher. It is not who I am as a parent. It is not who I am as a human being.  

Each child deserves to be loved for the blessing that he is and for the gifts that he possesses. I am ashamed of myself. I've allowed the funhouse mirror that is the education reform movement to distort my relationship with my students. Anyone have a hammer?


  1. Such powerful story, thank you for sharing it!

  2. Have you had this kid examined for memory problems (referred to the psychologist)? If there's no effort/attitude problem and he's still not able to keep concepts in mind, there may well be a neurological problem.

  3. Agree with anonymous above...inability to retain anything in short term memory, even when all sorts of modalities have been used, would tend to indicate that this child needs to be evaluated for intervention/special needs...I have a student this year with same problem, and feel so sorry for her. She literally can't remember from one lesson to the next, let alone from something she worked on ten minutes ago. She is in a special needs group and is mainstreamed for many classes, but worry what will happen to her as she gets older and the 'test' business will really start to reflect what she has (NOT Been able to) learn. She currently is a lower primary, but I don't hold out much hope for this child, and can only wonder what will happen in the upper grades, when teachers' drive will all be geared towards test scores.

  4. You could almost be describing my son. His main teacher has been trying so hard, to no avail. Some of his other teachers have been less than helpful or understanding. It's so frustrating for all of us, especially my son.

    Thank you for trying with this child. All I can say is communicate, communicate, communicate with his parents.

  5. I believe that children are constantly being overwhelmed with home assignments. I want them to develop multy-sidedly, thus I use online homework help services to make their schedule more free for other activities.

  6. Nice story, as a former teacher, I like it.

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