Jessicah Lahitou shares would like to see more concrete solutions to the boys that get left behind in the classrooms.
During my fourth year of teaching 8th grade English, I taught a student named Vance. He was athletic, quite tall in fact, and had a quick wit that kept his classmates laughing on regular basis.
Like many male students who came jostling through my classroom over the years, Vance was clearly capable, but wholly uninterested in traditional school as a general concept, and English class as a particular iteration.
He also had an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), due to being diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD and ADD manifest themselves in a variety of ways; in Vance, the symptoms mirrored the cultural stereotype. Sitting still was all but impossible for him. Legs ceaselessly bouncing, fingers endlessly ticking across the desk. Up to the pencil sharpener, back to his seat. Up to the Kleenex box, back to his seat. Up to the trash can, back to his seat. Vance was always moving, a body in uninterrupted restlessness.
Understandably, this constant motion distracted the students around him. As the year went on, I found his nonstop excuses to fidget an impediment to my own concentration.
But Vance was paying attention, always able to answer whatever question I posed to the class. He passed all his assignments, quizzes, tests, projects. He was engaged. He was learning. You can’t ask for much more from thirteen and fourteen year olds.
So I spoke with Vance and his mother, and we came up with what turned out to be a successful solution. The student chairs at our four class computer stations had wheels; Vance was free to sit in one of those and scoot around a small section of free space in the back of the classroom, provided he did not distract fellow classmates. Since the classroom was carpeted, the chair rolled noiselessly, and Vance pushed himself around back there for months, at no extra burden to myself or any other students.
He was happy, the other students were happy, I was happy. And everyone was still learning.
I share this story because Vance, his mom, that group of students, the specific characteristics of that classroom, and the personality of yours truly were all factors in determining an innovative, specialized approach to Vance’s ADHD.
I’ve been asked many times what is wrong with our schools, why are American students—and especially male students—so far behind their international peers? My response is that the problem is an octopus. There are too many tentacles: once you tackle one, seven more rise up against you.
Unprepared teachers. Low pay. Low standards. Too little parental involvement. Too much parental involvement. Cultural pressure to disregard school. Cultural pressure to view school only as a means to a hefty paycheck. Too many students per teacher. Too little money for training. Lack of fair, consistent discipline. Lack of needed facilities and faculty. Technology. Lack of technology. Arbitrary graduation rate goals. No graduation rate goals at all.
These are just a fraction of the tentacle list. No school suffers from every problem; but every school suffers from more than one.
And these problems appear to be harming male students more than female students. Not only are female college graduates outnumbering males at a rate of 60% to 40%, but across all grade levels, female students are outperforming their male counterparts.
When I hear these statistics, I often think of Vance. After his compulsive movements around the room, I consulted some of his other teachers as to how they handled his ADHD, and some responses were telling. It seems he was at times treated with strict, no tolerance discipline. The teacher expected that he would behave himself, he would control himself, or he would be swiftly removed from the classroom altogether.
Boys may not suffer from ADD and ADHD at higher rates than girls, but they nevertheless often manifest symptoms like Vance’s at a much earlier age. And I wonder if the way we treat boys in the classroom is not at least partially to blame for the growing gender gap in student achievement.
And I wonder what other ways our culture at large, and public school culture specifically, are putting boys at an academic disadvantage.
Photo by sonictk /flickr