Jill is one of my favorite students— but she’s also one of the most reluctant learners I have ever encountered! She has low self-esteem and has conditioned herself not to try at anything—no matter what it is. Jill has no support at home, including no consequences for making bad grades. As a result, she spends most of her time running around her classroom, refusing to return to her seat, yelling across the room over her teachers, or complaining loudly about having to do her classwork.
Periodically, Jill’s math teacher sends her out into the hall to work one-on-one with me, or in a small group. I will say that she has made baby steps: she will put numbers into a calculator, or focus for brief periods when explaining a concept, but she will not pick up her pencil and try to solve a problem on her own. I try rephrasing math problems into scenarios that relate to her interests: we solve linear equations based on her expected income if she were a wedding planner for celebrities; I rephrase word problems to revolve around makeup and fashion and movie stars. Still, I struggle to get her to try anything on her own.
I’m not sure when her attitude changed, but at some point this year she decided that I was no longer her enemy and stopped fighting so hard when I tried to get her to learn. She now even asks to go work with me! Sometimes, if I can get her to stay interested, she will begin to rephrase my explanations in her own words.
Last week, she was taking a quiz and she came out into the hall before I even made it through the door of her classroom, howling bitterly about how impossible it was. We sat down outside, and I walked her through a problem. And then, something amazing happened: I saw the first flicker of determination I had seen from her all year. She took the pencil out of my hand and did the next problem by herself—with no explanation or help. When she looked at me and I got to tell her that she had done it right by herself on the first try, I was probably more excited than she was.
Jill completed the rest of the quiz on her own, with me just sitting there quietly beside her. Later, she told me:”this chapter is easy,” and that she was going to actually do her homework. When I asked her what brought about this sudden change of heart, she replied: “You’re just going to make me do it anyway.”
Who knows if the change of heart will last, but I was really proud of Jill in that moment