Being Proactive with Struggling Students

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There has been a growing number of people who have been sharing their “why I teach moment” on twitter.  Maybe you’ve seen them.  I know that I made of one those a while back too, but not remembering what I said before, I would currently say I teach because I enjoy the opportunity it gives me to learn and grow as a human being while allowing me to help others do the same.  It really comes down to helping others improve and be the best they can be.

Personally, I think I nailed the answer to that question.  Yet, in the thick of a day to day struggle “helping others improve” really looks like emails home, silent prayers, and a consistent struggle of getting another human to do ANYTHING productive.  Like seriously, you don’t need to face swap in my class.

Struggle is something that is inevitable in teaching and, when you stop to think about it, is an important part of helping others.  As a teacher, I preach the importance of struggle to my students; using positive strategies to overcome challenges is how I expect them to improve.  Although stressful to the everyday life of a teacher, the struggling students are the ones that push us to be great!

I realized after my first few years of teaching that working with struggling students was something I needed to improve.  With no time to waste, I decided to reach out to my struggling students, but more importantly, their parents.

Before the school year began, I looked up the historical grades of my incoming students.

An easy enough idea but something that was never provided to me at the start of the school year.  Because of this, I knew which students had struggled in previous years before I even met them.  This was good because I knew who may be my struggling learners, but potentially dangerous because now I had preconceived notions of these students as possibly lazy or dangerously unskilled.

I decided to email the parents of any student with a C-, D, or F and set up a conference during the first few weeks of school.

Some of you may be thinking – these are the students with uninvolved parents. Will they even show up?  The answer is YES!  Okay, the majority of emails sent do go unanswered, but when parents of a handful respond, you are given a great opportunity to meet them, get to know more about your students, and set clear expectations from the beginning.

From the meetings, I can tell you that parents are thrilled to see a teacher take the time to really know their son/ daughter from the beginning of the year.  Students, on the other hand, are often aloof because they don’t know if you’re someone that is out to get them or someone who really cares.  Despite a student that appears to be annoyed that a teacher has brought their parent into the mix before the school year even started, you will find as the year progresses you won them over day one.  Showing that you’re more than a teacher that simply goes through the motions to teach students, you win major brownie points.

I try to keep the meeting short – about 20 to 30 minutes.  Here are a few questions/ topics that I like to discuss:

To student (if present):

-tell me about one of your strengths, it doesn’t need to be in school
-why do you say that is a strength?
-how did you get good at it?
-tell me about one of your weaknesses, again it doesn’t need to be in school
-why do you think that is a weakness of yours?
-what do I need to do as a teacher to help you have a successful year?

To parent:

-tell me about your child (parents can run and run with this one, but it all helps paint a picture)
-what have you found your child struggles with in school?
-what strategies do you use at home to help him/ her with learning?

I usually end with a quick mini-lesson on growth mindset and the importance of using the growth mindset language at home and at school.  

Teaming up with the parents won’t mean the year will be perfect, but it does give you a more well-rounded view of the student and sets a positive tone for the start of the year.  I have found success by adding this to my teaching arsenal and hope it could work for you too!