The only problem with the additional helping teachers found in a high-poverty school is the additional teachers.
Here’s a story followed by a solution. (And, no, the solution isn’t to get rid of the funding and the extra teachers!)
So, Eduardo, Mr. P points to his notebook page, Are you getting to the bottom of it?
Mr. P is teaching exploratory writing. “Ideas are like boxes. I can’t always see the bottom of them. When I write to get to the bottom of the page I sometimes get to the bottom of an idea too. Writing helps me figure out what I’m thinking.”
Now the lesson is at the “Try-It” phase, where Mr. P confers with the students as they grapple with what he’s demonstrated.
Eduardo points to the top of his page and, using the exact gesture Mr. P used, zigzags his finger down to the bottom of the page. “New Idea,” he announces, pointing to the last sentence.
“New Idea?” echoes Mr. P. “You got to the bottom of the page and surprised yourself? You came up with something you hadn’t thought of before?”
Eduardo nods and starts to tell Mr. P what he’s discovered.
At this point, Eduardo’s Helping Teacher rushes over.
Like a looming Goliath, she stands behind Eduardo. She makes a time-out gesture and says, as If Eduardo were deaf, “Eduardo’s not ready for that yet.”
With that pronouncement, Eduardo puts his pencil down and drops his hands to his lap. The light in his eyes switches off; he starts to do that humming thing he’d done when he first came to the class. When his foster mother enrolled him she said he had elected not to speak because of the trauma he’d suffered before coming to her. Now, several months later, although he does not yet volunteer in whole class situations or with his Helping Teacher, he talks freely in small group and with Mr. P.
The Helping Teacher hadn’t coordinated with Mr. P. and that’s a huge problem. In order to accelerate progress, every adult working with the students must know the child and have the same goals.
So how to coordinate?
- Have all helpers working in the classroom where the main teacher can quickly talk to the helpers and make sure they get it.
- If this is not possible, the team working with the child must meet, even if it’s two minutes twice a week, even if it’s through a notebook that the child carries with him in which all the teachers make notes and give updates–something to ensure that everyone is on the same page–in this case literally.
- Helpers include: Chapter One and Special Ed teachers, interns, student teachers, the specials teachers, elder tutors, physical therapists, psychologist, etc.
Once the teacher team understands the vital nature of cohesion in instruction, it happens. And it’s not a case of David and Goliath anymore.