When I was in high school I volunteered as a classroom helper in one of the local elementary schools within my county. Through this experience, I was able to observe lots of things, but one of the most problematic situations has really stuck with me.
The classroom I helped in was a first grade classroom and it had a teacher, a teacher’s assistant and me helping in it. Generally, either the teacher or the assistant would direct me in what they wanted me to help with, whether it be cutting things, making copies or helping students with their work. Sometimes they would have me help a student who needed extra help with something or had missed an assignment from a previous day, this was probably the most interesting task because I really got to interact with the students.
After volunteering for a semester I began to notice the way in which a particular child was treated in the classroom. This student, we will call him Jack for privacy purposes, may be one of the sweetest 6 year olds I have ever met. Coming into the class at the beginning of the semester, he was extremely shy. He was definitely not one of the students who would rush over to me to tell me about his week or which bug he was doing his research project on, until one week when I was told to help him one on one. I was a little apprehensive to begin working with him because I had noticed that consistently every week either the teacher or the assistant was fussing at Jack. However; after spending some time with Jack, I think I understand why they were fussing at him.
The assignment that I was helping Jack with was a research book project on scorpions. Each student was allowed to choose whichever animal they wanted for this project, so Jack decided on scorpions. The task I was supposed to be helping Jack with was rewriting his rough draft of his book onto the special final copy paper. After about 2 minutes I began to realize something about Jack, he had a really hard time concentrating. First graders typically take a while to do most tasks so I was prepared to sit with him for while while he copied his sentences over onto the paper, but for Jack it was taking a really long time. After every few words, Jack would look at me and tell me a completely unrelated statement about things ranging from his siblings to his favorite snacks to what he was going to do after school that day. He would also do things like pick up a ruler and just stare at it. But, after really working with him and trying to get him to focus, he was able to. It really just took some extra attention.
After working with Jack that week, he had completely warmed up to me, each week following that one he would immediately run up to me and even asked his teacher if I could help him again in the following weeks. The teacher and the assistant told me that they would be happy to pass him along to me because “he drove them crazy.”
I feel like this type of situation is one of the major problems we have in our current educational system. If a student doesn’t perfectly fit the mold that we preset for them, we deem them inferior or a problem. While students like Jack do take extra attention and help, they don’t deserve to be made to feel that they are lesser than any other student. I do understand the craziness that is a classroom, but I feel as though there has to be a better way to ensure that all students are getting what they need. I know there is no easy solution, but I just wanted to share an experience I had and the problems I found within this situation.