Year: 1997-1998
Month: January
Leader: Group K

Situation/Case Study:

The student misses a lot of school, not just because of a younger brother who has psychological problems and lots of family emergencies, but also the teacher thinks there are days when he doesn't feel like coming and his mother doesn't push him. He is not good about turning in work even when he is present and often does not turn in the make-up work from his other classes either. For example, he is still missing a book report from before Thanksgiving. The teacher attempted to talk to the parent, scheduled four conferences and the mother did not show for any of them. The teacher called again and insisted that there were serious problems and asked the mom and child to meet with her and the team of teachers who work with him. The only day the parent could make it was the Friday afternoon before winter break. At this time the teacher discussed with the parent a major project that the students had been working on all semester, an autobiography, and explained her concern that the child hadn't done it. (It was supposed to be a Christmas gift to parents if the children so desired.) Following winter break the student turned in a beautifully done autobiography far beyond his ability to produce. When the teacher talked to him about it, she said she was going to have a hard time giving him a grade because this was not his work. She called the parent to discuss this and the parent immediately turned the tables, telling her she thought the teacher had damaged her son's self-esteem by telling him she didn't believe that the work was his. The teacher said she really didn't know how to grade the work. The parent was very angry, said they had worked very hard on the project and did the teacher really want something she couldn't read from the boy. The teacher said that if that was where he was at, that was what she wanted to see, that she couldn't help him learn if the work wasn't his. She agreed to give him a grade based on his rough drafts, but the mother said they didn't have them anymore. The teacher discussed the situation with the principal so that she would be aware of the situation in case the parent called. The parent is a single mom who is engaged to be married. The student is usually pleasant and agreeable in class, says he understands what he is to do and doesn't ask for help. The parent has also done math assignments so the homeroom teacher feels its not just her. She finally decided to just give the child a grade on the project for his sake, but not to enter it into her grade book and just write off the assignment in her assessment of his work.

The teacher might feel angry, frustrated, backed into a corner, helpless because there seems to be no support and no effort by anyone but her to help this boy. A teacher in this position might feel perplexed, anxious, angry, alone, betrayed by the student, empathetic toward the single mom, that no action might be good action, tentative about her next move, worried about repercussions, ornery. Revenge seems so sweet, but is not appropriate. There is a desire to give a kick in the seat of the pants to the parent and the boy. A teacher in this position may feel totally frustrated and not supported by the family. She may be indecisive as to what approach to take next. A teacher might feel frustrated because they feel like the parent is enabling, not helping the student. The teacher might feel unsupported by the parents and feel like no one can help the situation. A teacher in this situation might feel frustrated that she can’t help this child learn in a productive way and that she is having so much difficulty communicating effectively with this parent. A teacher in this position may feel helpless because no matter what she does she won’t feel like she’s doing the right thing. Someone is always going to be unhappy with you. A teacher would also feel defensive because she would feel as though the parent is trying to “get her.” A teacher might feel confused because her efforts to help the student achieve aren’t being taken advantage of, worried when expectations are not being met by parent or student. A teacher might feel frustrated that she is running out of ideas to cope with the situation; angry for being blamed for the problem; helpless. The teacher might feel angry because she is trying very hard to help the student and frustrated because the mother isn’t supporting her. A teacher may feel frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be an answer as to how to help the student.

Theories behind practice:
In working with students it is essential to build on what they know, provide scaffolding and support when moving students to the zone of proximal development. Students soon succumb to learned helplessness if significant adults (parents) demonstrate that they do not believe that the students are capable enough to do their own work. Motivational theory suggests that students need to believe in their own abilities, to be appropriately challenged, and to either be rewarded externally or achieve a sense of personal worth and satisfaction when work is completed to the best of their ability. When a parent does the assignment for the student, none of these is achieved and it is difficult for the teacher to assess the true development of the child and to provide the appropriate level of support and challenge.

Impact on others:

The child might be referred to the school counselor for help as the problems are probably more complex than the homework issue. See the fifth grade teacher to see if there is a pattern of this behavior and to see what worked in the past. The teacher might try developing a miniature contract with the student, the more that’s on paper, the less that’s abstract, the more that’s accountable the better. Involve the student, give him a voice. Start with one assignment and let him pick that assignment. Create the smallest of contracts so that he can feel success and so that his self-esteem might be raised. This should be discussed between the teacher and the student so that the student feels he has some control over the situation. Adjust the work of the student so that it doesn’t have to go home. Arrange for the student to stay after school one night a week to do work that is still undone. Provide a ride from Dial - a- Ride if the mother can’t pick him up. There might be funds available to do this. Make the plan with the student not with the mother. Knowing she has not supported you in the past, try to win over the child and work on his successes. The child may be using what happens in school to manipulate the situation at home and at school.

The group discussed the probationary observations of members since the last session and talked about the fact that these seemed to have gone quite well. One of the mentor teachers approached the principal who was under discussion last month to ask for the rubric she used when observing teachers. The principal said that there wasn’t any specific guidelines provided from the district. The mentor teacher said she would like some guidelines from the principal of the kinds of things that she was looking for so the mentor could work with her mentee to make sure she was covering all the bases. The principal agreed that she could provide this but as yet has not. Several group members asked about being asked to fill out the Pathwise questionnaire. Others were not aware of what that was. It seems the principal in question does not use this in evaluation. The teacher involved felt the discussion was very helpful. She felt that it was good just to be able to talk about the situation, feel the support of the others and that the ideas they had were really helpful and gave her hope to keep trying.