More About the Fearful Student

4/27/2005 12:51:00 am

Here's the whole story:

About two weeks ago my Pre-Cal 40S (grade 12) class was working on our review web site. As usual, I was circulating to give some one-on-one attention to those students that most needed it. I came across one girl who appeared to be really struggling with one of the questions in the Trig Identities review. As I watched her from a distance I could tell she was getting frustrated. I went over to her, crouched down so that we could talk at eye level, and asked: "Are you having trouble with that one?" She said yes. I started asking her some leading questions to help her find her way through the problem when I got this creeping feeling that she was getting tense and anxious. I thought she was just frustrated; anxious about not being able to solve the problem. I don't know what it was, but that wasn't it. I asked her if she wanted me to help her with the problem or if she'd would prefer that I just go away. She said she'd prefer if I just went away.

Now I suppose she might have been uncomfortable that I was physically too close to her. Maybe she was intimidated by my crouching down to talk to her at eye level. I don't know. Whatever it was, it wasn't the math. How am I supposed to help a student learn who gets flustered by my standing near them and talking to them? How can I give a stuggling student the one-on-one attention they very much need (and which I can rarely give) without standing next to them? How does a struggling student learn when the simple proximity of their teacher makes them nervous? Now, maybe the idea of man standing close to her discomfitted her. That's possible. But this young lady has been in my class before (grade 11). She struggled there too. I had given her the same kind of help, crouching down at her desk, many times before without this sort of nervousness entering the picture. What was different this time?

I don't have a definitive answer but I've got a pretty good idea what the answer is.

Last week, this same young lady came to see me while I was working in the computer lab on a prep period. She needed my signature to drop the course. I asked her why she's dropping the course and she said: "The math is too hard."

"Can I ask you a couple of more questions?"


"Have you been doing all your homework?"

"No. Not really."

"Have you been reviewing your notes daily, as we discussed at the begining of the course?"


"Have you been meeting with a study group at least once a week as I suggested when the class began?"


"Have you made a point of asking me, or a classmate, for help when you had trouble understanding what we had done in class?"


"Have you been using our blog regularly?"


"I think your poor performance in this class is a reflection of your effort rather than your ability. I think you're a very smart girl who can learn the math. You just didn't try. You might want to consider taking this course again; but this time, put in the effort."

She was relieved I signed her paper.

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  1. We sometimes forget that our students come to us with a myriad of issues and concerns that have little to do with the content of our class. This smart girl's lack of attention to her assignments, and her overt "fearfulness" surely suggest something else is going on it her life. No one wants to guess what, I'm sure. And in a perfect world we'd all have trusting relationships with our students, but that's just not the way it is.

    I appreciate your efforts to understand this girl. Let's hope she finds what she needs.

  2. You're right. I'm often amazed at the hardships that some of my students face; little to no food at home, no bed to sleep on, few clothes to wear. When you put it in the context of the hardships she may be facing at home, which I know nothing about, it most likely has nothing to do with me.

    A friend of mine likes to end all his email with this quote: "May I judge no man until I have walked two moons in his moccasins." Thanks for the reminder. ;-)