Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Bother Trying?

In “I am racing people, and I always win.” from Blogush by Paul Bogush, Paul asks, “Can you imagine what it must be like to spend seven hours a day, everyday, in a place with people that label you a “D” or an “F,” a loser, a failure. Everyday entering a race and never winning, never even knowing what the race is for or which direction to run? And if you even decided one day to try your best you would still not be labeled a success?”

I feel this is what my special ed students felt like every day. By the time that they reached my high school class, they had pretty much given up on any kind of success. Most of them were there because the law or their parents said they had to be there. I’m not saying that they didn’t want to learn but they were afraid to even try because of all the years of failure that they have already experienced. I can truly tell you that it is so sad to look into these eyes see how disheartened they feel by the educational system and all the teachers that they have encountered. Why should they think that I was anyone different?

I began to see it as a personal challenge to see how many students I could get to succeed and believe in their own successes. I wanted them to believe enough that they would try new things and risk failure. I wanted to know that if they failed, they had the strength to continue growing and not give up trying any more. Each time a student achieved this, I felt it as a personal achievement too.

I have joined the many ranks that rants about the education system and administrators of all levels. It is easy to talk about the problems and the hopes of solving all the issues so that all students will survive and succeed. But when it comes down to it, how much of this ranting and raving will actually help each of my individual students succeed? I think the protesting has its place in working towards improving the system but I also have to look at what I can actually do to help the actual student that is here and now, not in the future.

I always set up the first couple of weeks with lots of small assignments that I know the students can complete successfully. At first, even they are surprised at these small successes. In fact, I know they are scared to believe in them and expect that this was just a fluke. I spend a lot of time praising them and encouraging them during this step.

As I increase the difficulty of their assignments, I make sure that I am always available to help them. Giving them cues and encouragement will help them succeed during this time. As they succeed more and more, they become more confident and this is so wonderful to see.

Now the most important step in all of this is to actually sit with them and reflect about their successes. It is important to talk about what has helped them be successful. It is also important to explain that the work will start getting more complex (not harder- words can cause a self fulfilling prophecy that I do not want to happen). They need to know that they could encounter obstacles (not failures) but it if vital that that they keep trying.

As the year continues, the students need to keep succeeding and reflecting. The reflecting part will help this behavior stick and hopefully spill over into other aspects of their lives. By doing this I hope to change the failure cycle that my students have been caught in and that they can get caught in a more successful cycle for the rest of their lives.

Original image: 'Success' by: Vincent Maurin


Kila said...

I can very much relate to this, since I have a special ed student. He's 9 years old and in
4th grade, and already has very little self-esteem and self-confidence left. School has not been a good experience, to put it mildly. (As of last week, he is now home schooling.) I wish there were more teachers like you! Good article.

emapey said...

Great post Pat. I have featured it in my blog, How to Motivate Your Students I am really sorry I couldn't help you in your flashmeeting. I have also a Flashmeeting booking account. This is the Meeting with some online edu friends from Argentina. We talked in Spanish. Audio is always an issue in this type of meetings.

I hope we can have a flashmeeting soon!

Kobus van Wyk said...

This posting is similar to my latest posting about keeping projects small ... the only difference is that you apply the concept of spoon-by-spoon to learners in class, and I applied it to getting teachers to adapt to the use of ICT in school. The principle remains the same.

loonyhiker said...

@emapey Thanks for reading and putting the link to this post in your blog! I added your blog to my google reader so I don't miss any updates.

loonyhiker said...

@Kila Thanks for the kind words. I hope someday your son can find a teacher who can be an advocate for him. I am teaching teachers now on the university level and hope that I can share my ideas with them to use in the classroom.

loonyhiker said...

@Kobus You are so right. We all need to learn in little chunks and gain confidence. It is hard and scary to learn something new, no matter what age you are.