The Perils of Being ‘Less Helpful’

i am guessing that most people who will read this are familiar with Dan Meyer’s TED Talk. When I first saw this it crystallized some ideas that had been festering for awhile. It also articulated some thoughts about my evolving practice as a classroom teacher. I have shared this video with my department colleagues and have also shared it in class with students. As I have mentioned before, most of the teaching I have been doing at my current school (I arrived here in 2010) has been with AP Students. They are pretty well equipped to deal with the sense that I am being ‘less helpful’ with them. Of course, I want my students to feel supported, but I also want them to be pretty self-sufficient. We have a feature in our schedule where school ends after eight periods ( we call them Bells ) and every teacher is expected to be in their room for Bell 9 which is a time for students to come for extra help. We call it conferencing here. This background sets up my post for the night.

i blogged a number of times last week about my Geometry students and the success they had this week. I also shared the news with my Geometry colleagues. I teach this course with two terrific colleagues, but we do not have very similar principles about a number of items. When I popped in to visit one of these colleagues last Friday she said she was happy to hear that the quiz results were so good and she said that she had four of my students in her room Bell 9 on Thursday and she had to ‘talk them off the ledge.’ I’ve been sitting on this for a few days because I am not at all sure what to feel about this. There are, of course, no rules about who you can visit for conference help. I was working with someone Thursday afternoon and missed an brief, but important, meeting that afternoon, so I know that these students did not go to my colleague because I was not available. I have to think that they went there because they thought it would be more helpful to ask her questions. I honestly believe, I REALLY do, that it is vital to hear other voices explain ideas. This is why my room is set up in the form of two big conference tables. I also wrote last week about the great work they did in talking about HW with each other last week. I fear that my students did not feel that asking me for help would be very helpful. I am not at all sure of how to proceed here. It has been awhile since I taught a big group of students this young and I have spent so much time with AP kids that I fear I am developing a reputation as someone who is less than helpful. It’s kind of ironic that I tout the virtues of this video and share it with students and I am now bothered by the idea that this image might be following me a bit. I know that my Geometry colleagues have a different attitude about the type of help that students need/deserve than I do. I have to figure out how to reconcile my beliefs about how to teach and how to answer questions with my belief that it is okay – even necessary at times- to hear another voice explain things. I just wish my stupid ego did not get in the way.

Any wisdom out there for me?

3 thoughts on “The Perils of Being ‘Less Helpful’”

  1. comfort zone
    learning zone
    panic zone
    it is soooo tough to keep them in the learning zone….
    It i not about being less helpful, but keeping them in the learning zone – whatever that means for the student, and YOU know what that means for each student you teach.

  2. I’m sure you’ll get better advice from an actual classroom math teacher, but here’s my $0.02: I agree with you wholeheartedly. There’s no reason to take ‘telling’ off the table as a way to help kids. If we want students to follow their own scripts and not live by soundbites and not just do the ‘popular’ thing, we should set the example. Really kills me that teachers are feeling pressured to be this way. You have to deal with the realities of your own classroom, not follow some ideology.

    I wish you the best! And thanks for the post!

  3. Children have different learning styles. While many will learn tgeu the less helpful, some won’t. Some can’t, and need more support than others. I teach “less helpful” in a resource environment, to kids of all abilities. I tailor my questions and prompts to their individual issues. I feel that it important to watch for those cues that tell me a students needs me to be a little “less” less helpful. And i encourage students to ask peers, use other teachers (maybe even someone they had previously) to help. Kids learn differently, and one teacher’s “style” may help them make sense of what you are presenting. They come back to class with new understandings and a readiness to continue! Sounds like you are blessed with a great team of colleagues and kids who are seriously interested in learning!

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