Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Students Needs vs My Needs

Last week I did one of the hardest things I've done as a teacher. I suggested that one of my favorite guided reading groups work with another teacher.

It killed me to do it. (If I said that phrase in the reading group one of the girls would immediately note my use of figurative language. I love this group.)

It especially hurt because just the day before one of the girls in the group snuck into my office at dismissal and told me how lucky she was and I worked together in reading.

I've been working with this group for two years now. Members have left and some have joined, but from April of last year until now we have been a set group. One of them came into the country last year. If we didn't switch her reading group I would be the only teacher who gave her guided reading instruction in the United States.

One of them in particular has made phenomenal progress. I am so proud of him. I thought about him all summer and determined that this year my main goal is to get him to grade level. I was sure we could do it. At our first quarter conference I told his mom about my plan and promised that I was going to do everything I could to get him to grade level.

After giving the mid-year reading assessment and analyzing his results I realized he is making some of the same mistakes he made a year ago. These errors aren't holding him back enough to impact his overall score on the test, but reading is not about one overall passing score. It is about putting all of those skills together. He needs all of those skills. The whole group does.

Everyone in the group is doing well and is making progress. Not at grade level, but moving towards it. If you look at just the score it looks like they are doing fine. But I want more for them than fine.  If I really want them to kick it into gear and get to grade level before middle school it is time for something drastic. I thought a lot about that promise I made to one mother, and I thought about the group's frustration over test prep and how much I want them to be able to sit confidentially for the end of the year testing. They need something different.

On paper, every one of them has an excuse for not performing on grade level, so it would be easy to look at their progress and say, "Oh, OK, no worries here. From kids with their backgrounds this is the progress we'd expect." But I know they can do it. I one hundred percent believe we can bring them to grade level.

I've written about how my school does reading groups here, and how effective it is. When we sit down to make groups the entire grade sits down together with the English as a Second Language teacher, the special education teacher, the reading specialist, the advanced academics teacher, and sometimes even the technology specialist. We look at the entire grade level's reading abilities and create groups from there. Groups are set, we go out and teach, and then come back together 6-8 weeks later to discuss their progress and make new groups if their needs have changed or if they need something different.

I think it is time for this group to get something different. Just a new perspective, new energy, a new approach. While they are working with another teacher I plan to keep tabs on them and see if their comprehension skills change. If so, then I hope to look at what their teacher is doing and learn what I can do to improve my teaching for the future.

There is a lot of doubt in this decision. That tiny voice inside my head asking, What if they don't connect with another teacher? What if the other teacher doesn't push them as hard as I have, or does not believe they can do it as much as I do? There is a lot of trust I have to put in my co-workers in order to even broach the subject.
I worried that the words to suggest the change would not even exit my mouth. If I am honest with myself I feel a sense of ownership over this group. They are mine. They've been mine for two years. I've been proud of how well they've done, which makes it even harder to suggest that they work with another teacher. But it is not about me. It is not about my teaching skills, my ego, pride, or the bright spot in my day. It is about the kids.

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