I have one student who does her best, every day, to not pick up her pencil in math class. She refuses to get started, refuses to ask for help, and refuses to so much as copy down a problem or attempt a first step. It could come from confidence (she is definitely lower than the average student), but when she does do work she doesn’t even struggle that much. It could come from our relationship (she definitely gets mad at me), but she also regularly gives me hugs and tells me I’m her favorite teacher ever. It could come from the material (math by this point in the year definitely looks scary), but one of my strengths is scaffolding every lesson so that all students can do well on at least the first problems. It could come from her being coddled her whole life (Mom definitely says that all her previous teachers babied her heavily), but we’ve worked with her all year on developing some independence and I’ve seen no progress on this front. So I don’t know why she is so reluctant to attempt the work, but it makes it really hard for me to get her caught up with her peers.
On a half day with shorter periods, I was going to do an at-your-own-pace review of adding fractions. When she walked in to the room, she asked me (without any precedent) if she could be teacher for the day. While I normally would have said no, I realized that the only actual modeling that needed to be done was a quick example problem to refresh their memories, and probably the only student who actually needed to pay attention was the girl standing in front of me. So on impulse, I said yes.
Watching her run the class was one of the more entertaining things I’ve seen all year. I stick to the exact same structure for the beginning of each class, and I could finally see why that paid off. She timed the Do Now, reviewed answers, had the kids get out their materials for the day, and ran the homework check. The kids already knew exactly what to do anyway, so I didn’t have to say a word. And for someone who I swear never listens to me, she was parroting my common phrases word-for-word.
During the Homework Check: “Okay, I’m going to set the timer for 3 minutes. Can anyone raise a hand and tell me what 3 things you need to do in this time?”
When kids exchanged papers and the chatting started: in perfect Mathinaz sarcasm: “Excuse me, but if the paper is too heavy for you to pass, you should raise your hand and I’ll help. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need to be speaking to anyone.”
When she was reviewing answers: “I’d like to compliment classmate, classmate, and classmate for how respectfully they are listening to their peers explain their ideas.”
It was all I could do not to die laughing as I watched myself in miniature up in front of the classroom, somehow coming from the body of a child who normally slumps over her paper and does nothing all day.
And the best part was that when it came time for her to do the example problem on the board, she froze in panic for only a second. Then she called on one of our best math students to walk her through it, and he did a perfect job while she copied everything down. The whole class got to see and hear the steps, and she actually got to do them (and do them properly! and in front of everyone!) without whining first.