Starting a math elective–come on kids, let’s take math! For fun. Yeah,not the most enticing elective on the block. However, that is exactly what we needed. We needed a class that circumvented the mandated learning standards and focused on two things, foundational life skills and back tracking support.
Foundational life skills are easy to understand, right? Telling time, money, measurement, and basic skills like place value, rounding, and fluency facts. Those became an obvious and necessary focus so students can move forward and function as productive adults. Got it, makes sense. Now what was that other thing?
Back tracking support? Each year we teach our students the mandated standards. In exceptional education we teach those while offering accommodations and services to keep them on pace with their peers and in line for the next year. Sadly, it doesn’t always produce desired results. Those on the outside may be asking what? How could that be? You must be failing as teachers? Not really, we are doing what we can in an inept system to benefit the child. We don’t want to hold them back, we want them to move ahead along side same aged peers, they are just as capable, the just need more than we can offer. We don’t want them to miss positive services available to them in more abundance at a future age, so we send them forward with more the opportunities awaiting. Furthermore, we don’t want to declare; the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the system it is based on is failing. So we push them ahead, along side their general education peers hoping that they rise to the high expectations. Sadly, it doesn’t necessarily happen that way. Students are continually asked to keep pace with general education peers. Students are learning, but cannot keep the pace; even with the magic cure all accommodations. A gap appears. Yeah, I said it….the buzz word.
Reality: many, most, and everyday students keep moving forward with the standards of achievement while meeting those expectations. Meanwhile, disadvantaged and exceptional students move slower and slower than their same aged peers gradually and squarely falling behind. In turn, and also additionally these students test lower and lower. These students fall into classes alongside other disadvantage and exceptional students, expectations naturally are askew. Meanwhile, others just keep moving forward, supported, successful. (I hear Dory, “Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming.”) And gleefully, successfully, and unaware they do keep swimming onward and measured accordingly. However, those magic accommodations in exceptional education aren’t magic and time is never an option. Then, the year ends. The tests are given. The standards are measured. Students move forward, even if their measures are subpar. Here we go…gap widens each year.
Ok, so that’s where the break down happens and that’s where the math elective gets celebrated. Well at least by a teacher that wants to bridge the gap. We focus on going backwards, looking at data (gasp) seeing where the holes are and attempting to fill them in. For some its a lengthy bridge for others a threshold, regardless our mission is the same.
Without the math elective, what happens? The gap widens. The students sit in math class pondering, why does everyone get this, and why don’t I even know the basics? The students that once tried, stops trying. Avoidance and deflection become more prevalent…oh my gosh, the student is reprimanded, removed from class, and wow guess what, gets out of math class.
I’ve spent great amounts of time trying to explain to those outside of education why teachers sound so negative when they talk about education. I try to explain the burn-out of a career in exceptional education. I try to explain the giant mishap we call education standards and high expectations….AND NOT SOUND LIKE NEGATIVE NELLY. I have decided, its just impossible to do. However, if you read this, if you even slightly understood the gist, maybe, just maybe you see the frustration within the system, the feeling of futility we feel as we push students forward on a mandated pacing before they are ready; furthering their gap far from their same aged peers. Perhaps Negative Nelly makes just an ounce of sense and you think; Oh, so reform isn’t reform! Reform is throwing out the entire philosophy and looking at true individualized pragmatism while honoring the intelligence of the professional.
So, I simply cheerlead. I know some students need more. Not accommodations and services, but more. More time (not some extended time on tests and quizzes…more time). More time to learn, to really comprehend, to succeed at a task. To succeed at a task, before we send them forward. See sending them forward isn’t preventing the gap; its creating the gap. So I teach an elective, one I prepared for and talked about for two years before anyone said, “Oh yes, let’s try that.” And now I teach students the real life foundational concepts and the back tracking support of the standards they so desperately need to get back in step.
It doesn’t feel like enough, we continue to push them forward with the mandated pacing and measure against the same aged peers. Frankly, what we do is not ever enough in 2015. However, I see the bridge and hope they are built of elastic bands. I look at esteem and hope it bounces back. I see the bridges and think, can we make amends in a unfit system? And so, I teach a math elective.
Interested in it’s curriculum? Stay tuned for future article about the class, its logistics and philosophy.