Knowing your learner and adapting to a situation – Level 3 geography at Tamaki College

Several students in my level 3 geography class had some issues this year with attendance. They would rarely come to class however, I saw them around school everyday. After further investigation I found out these students were going to the library rather than class. For me as a first year teacher this was incredibly frustrating. I could not understand why they would come to school but not class and seemed to think being in the library rather than class was a totally exceptable excuse.

Early on, I accepted this as I could see they were at least getting their work done and were on task. However, I tried to assert that they came to see me at the beginning of the lesson to get the work. This request was a constant battle. Furthermore, as the year progressed these students would no longer tell me they were there nor were they completing their work. I would have probably let this go and mark the students as truant however, the weekend before assessments were due I would get frantic emails from these students asking for help. On the one hand I was pleased at least they were getting their work done. However, I couldn’t help but be annoyed they only really needed help because they had missed weeks of class discussion and extra support. Regardless, I would always answer their questions and try and support them as much as I could online.

As the weeks went by my frustration grew, these girls were not completing work but they were at school everyday! I felt responsible for their learning and was growing increasingly concerned about their lack of credits. I began to question these girls more and more when they had missed class, sent letters home and spoke to my HOD and their Dean.  None of this seemed to help in fact in only seemed to make matters worst – this had now started to effect my relationship with these students and they DEFIANTLY didn’t want to come to class.

By the end of term 2 I had, had enough, my approach wasn’t working and all the effort trying to get these girls to class was exhausting. I made a decision – I would focus on the students who wanted to come to class. I tried to have a restorative conversation with the girls. I explained my frustration but informed them it was now up to them. If they wanted to come to class they could, if not they didn’t have to. I also explained my frustration at checking work at 10pm on a Sunday night and asked if they could come see me in class with their questions. I decided to embrace the situation and told them they could come check in and were not expected to stay in class – they could head back to the library. Although this was difficult for me as a first year teacher as I felt like I was giving the girls permission to truant my class I was at a bit of a loss and figured it was worth a shot if it got them completing work.

While this didn’t work for all 3 students – one student responded particularly well. I began to see her in class more often (still not every day) and our relationship had improved she would talk to me about work and was generally pretty focused and on task when she was there. This shift in attitude (from both of us) meant this student ended up catching up on all of her missed assessments and completing all 4 of her internals.

In conclusion, I learnt from this experience as a teacher it is important to adapt your teaching practice to suit your learner and focusing on repairing relationships through restorative chats can be incredible useful. In the future, I will focus on the students who turn up to class and try to maintain a positive relationship with the more casual attenders so if they choose to make a turnaround they feel the door is always open 🙂

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