When Your Best Is Not Enough

I work with some very challenging students, who at their core, are really nice people. As I get to know them as people first and learners second, what surfaces quite rapidly is that many of their needs are beyond my skill set. I am not a counsellor. I am not a psychologist. I am not a physician. Yet the needs they bring to my classroom are very diverse and more complex than just literacy and numeracy. I find myself often saying, what can I do to help this child succeed and feel good about themselves. As you know, there is no simple answer to this question.

This year I have been faced with a dilemma that I have never before in my career been in. I do not know what to do for a child in my class. All of my efforts, strategies, consultations and professional readings have left me in the same place I started with this child over 6 months ago. This individual’s lack of progress (and at times regression) have been a huge stressful burden on me as I struggle everyday trying to figure out what to do to help this child stabilize and grow as a student should. My initial reaction was that despite my absolute best effort, I have failed this child.

I have a very good friend and colleague to whom I shared this belief about myself with. He was very quick to point out that I had not failed him. The student’s lack of progress is a result of many needs not being met. He began to query me about my approach with the student. The conversation went something like this:

Do you differentiate the work for this student so that it reflects his current academic level? Yes

Do you provide accommodations in his program that meet his individual’s learning needs? Yes

Do you work hard to make that student feel welcome and cared for each and every day in your classroom? Yes

Do you seek out additional supports within your school and/or board to assist you in creating a program for this student? Yes

Do you communicate your concerns in an ongoing manner to your school support team, principal as well as the student’s family? Yes

Do you smile and tell that student what a nice person they are and thank them for coming in everyday and putting forth their best effort? Yes

At the end of that conversation I came to realize that I had not failed this child. I had to the best of my knowledge and skill set did everything humanly possible to help this individual succeed and that despite my best effort, that progress was not occurring. I had not failed him, because I had not given up on him.

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The Author

Mike Beetham

I am currently entering my 32nd year of teaching and work with the Waterloo Region District School Board in an area behaviour class. I am actively involved with ETFO at both the local and provincial level. My passions are my family, teaching, the outdoors and personal fitness.

4 Comments

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  1. Will Gourley says:

    Mr Beetham, you have shared a thoughtful and important message here. It echoes the sentiments of your complete commitment to your craft. It is shown in your constant reflection and concern for this individual student. Your post is a reminder to us all that despite our concerted efforts we may not see immediate results, but we can draw strength from the idea that we might be planting seeds which will be harvested in the future. Thank you. Will

    1. Mike Beetham says:

      Your thoughts are much appreciated as we are all faced at some time with those type of questions about students. I was reminded by your comment that every single effort we put in will have an affect sometime and somewhere in that child’s life. Enjoy your week.

  2. Tammy Axt says:

    Mike, Thank you so much for the honesty in this post. As I was reading and reflecting on my own very similar situation this year, I was asking the questions presented by your colleague. Thank them for me as I am starting off the week with the reassurance that I am using every bit of knowledge I have and I,too, won’t give up!

  3. Julia says:

    I met Mike Beetham at a workshop that he gave concerning classroom management at my board office several years ago. It was a great workshop, given by an amazing teacher. He gave us a lot to think about, and a lot of strategies to use.

    Once again, Mr. Betham has given us a thoughtful approach to some of our most difficult students. I have copied his checklist and sent it to myself at school, where it will become a sticky note on my computer’s wall paper. There are one or two points I could improve on. I am not quite as amazing as Mr. Beetham!

    Thanks for yet another thoughtful approach to dealing with all students, not just the challenging ones.

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