26 November 2012

Commentary: Back to Work!

As I return to work after a week off for Thanksgiving Break (and due to teacher furloughs), I think of how much my students will have forgotten during their time away from school. I'm especially thinking about one of my students who, like many other kids, has endless potential, but zero, absolutely zero, educational support in his home life.

His parents are both immigrants and only his father speaks English. Even with those limitations though, the literature I've read time and again concludes that as long as his parents are actively encouraging his educational pursuits, he'll be able to make academic gains. I really wish that his parents would be more supportive but from what I gather, his dad works most of the time and his mom has flat out told us that she doesn't want to deal with any education-related issues concerning him.

There really isn't much that we can do except give him the best support that we can while he's in the after school program for four hours daily. Supporting him has meant doing all sorts of things, and most recently, it meant completing all of his vacation homework on the day that he received it, which was Friday, November 16th.

This particular students has a rather demanding teacher and she assigned her students both math and English homework for the break. Her students were supposed to complete three pages of math a day (for nine days) and write a journal entry a day (for six days).

The nature of his homework meant that when we sat down to do it, we completed 45 pages of math in about two hours. After a 45 minute break, we spent about another hour completing his journal entries (complete with drawings). I said it earlier, this kid has real potential, but as it is, he's definitely behind in his grade level. In order to get the work done, I had him supremely focused and kept a very upbeat, positive attitude.

He understood all of the work that we did (it was all review) but he did need quite a bit of prompting. All I could think while we were doing the work was how much more beneficial it would have been for him to do a little bit of the work every day instead of cramming it into one killer study session. I'd feel a whole lot better about the situation if I knew that his parents at least had him review his work during the break (and had him read daily!) but I'm quite confident that his backpack stayed zipped up and disregarded in some corner during his time off.

It's a challenge to figure out and execute the best game plan from here to set this kid, and others like him, on the road to educational success. He's quite young so we've still got a couple more years with him but I worry about all of my students and how they'll fare once they reach middle school. The big, long term goal is to get these kids prepared for higher education but the shorter term goal is to give them the knowledge and strategies that will make their transition into middle school go smoothly.

It's a daunting task.

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