Lesson 35 in Humility.
One of the advantages of small group work, or “doing nothing”, was that you could tailor what you taught to the individuals involved. I always devised worksheets for a particular group, geared to their interests. Pupils responded best to what was planned specially for them.
Sometimes though you came up against a brick wall. Rosalind was one of those brick wall pupils. She was a tall awkward, gangling girl. Her legs and arms seemed too long for her to cope with. My mother would have said she had “outgrown her strength”. Her best friend, who had been with her since primary school, was small, round and cuddly. The two of them made an odd, but devoted pair. They were both in my group.
In the case of Best Friend, it was clear why she had ended up with me. She spoke another language at home and nobody else in her family spoke English. She had never caused any problem in class, had a sunny and helpful personality, so she had just slipped through the net at primary level. A bit of encouragement and small group tutoring and she was fine.
Rosalind was more complicated. Her mother and I regularly communicated. There seemed to be no reason for her failing to make progress. We had her hearing and sight and general health checked out. They were all fine. She did her best to pay attention at school and at home. She desperately wanted to please and do well. Yet over her first couple of years in secondary school, despite all our efforts and a range of different approaches, she was no further forward. All of us were getting very despondent and discouraged.
At the next parents’ evening Mum and I sat looking at each other in despair.
“I don’t know what else I can do, Mrs Wise! Her sisters never had problems. They weren’t exactly Brain of Britain, but they both did OK. I’ve tried everything.” I nodded in sympathy
“Do you know what?” I said thoughtfully, “We have done everything! And all we’ve achieved is to make her and us thoroughly miserable! Perhaps we should just leave her alone!’
Mum looked at me, considered it for a while, then laughed. “Well it’s the only thing we haven’t tried yet!”
“Shall we give it a go? Say till the end of term?”
In the end we let her be for a whole six months. No worrying or nagging, just letting her get on with things. Best Friend cheerfully encouraged her to have a go at whatever the group was working on.
By the end of the school year, a subtle change had gradually taken place. Rosalind somehow seemed to have settled into her own skin. What she had needed most was a bit of breathing space to grow up in and the time to be herself. No targets, no expectations to fail to live up to, no benchmarks to be measured by.
All she wanted from us was the trust and confidence to value her as she was. Once given that, her work miraculously improved!
For me Rosalind served as a humbling reminder that, as a teacher, it’s not all down to your wonderful methodology or cleverly crafted scheme of work, that pupils make progress.