Thy name is differentiate

I had one of those classes, where two students, decided that they didn’t want to follow the rules, didn’t want to work, and in fact just wanted to disrupt all and sundry. I told them they were pathetically rude and disrespectful not only to me, but to their class mates in particular, as their behaviour disrupted the exam preparation of their classmates who are facing their final exams next week.

It happens frequently in all schools, and we are luckier at Fanny and Maude’s School for Fine Young Ladies, in that we have fewer incidents than other schools. And admittedly, the level of misbehaviour is never life threatening, though I did have one student last year who gave me every impression from the expression on her face that she was seriously considering socking me in the face. No knives, no thrown furniture.

The two students involved were both of the “academically challenged” stream and so their level of motivation is low at the best of times. With three weeks of their final year left, it is lower than nonexistent. They think they are beyond reprimand.

One of the buzz words in education is differentiation. We need to differentiate in our classrooms to suit each of the individual needs of our students. So, in this class, I have the two darlings already mentioned, as well as four international students from areas such as Hong Kong andSouth Korea. Obviously, English is their second language, and the cultural differences are enormous. It is close to impossible to get them to speak in class. Group activities are just too confronting in many instances, though we try. They won’t tell you they don’t understand, nor will they ask questions.

Then there are the Aboriginal students, who are living far from home, and regular attendance at school, and all the expectations that go along with that, are just too overwhelming for many. Often my instructions are just met with a wide smile, and it is obvious to both me and the student, that they are not going to take in one thing I am saying. Deadlines? They don’t exist. They learnt long ago that few people have any expectations, so if they just avoid long enough people go away. Last year, one particular student, just wanted to sing in class, every class, and the example of the student wanting to punch me out came from this group as well. Why not, when violence is often all many of these girls know?

There is the student who suffers from such debilitating migraines, that she has not been to school in some time. I have been teaching for four weeks and have yet to meet her. I communicate with her via email. Somehow she still manages to achieve A standard work. I have the depressed student, who is up one day and so down the next that it casts a pallor over the entire room. I have one self harmer. Another suffers from epileptic fits.  One is ultra Christian and worried herself senseless about studying The Crucible because witchcraft was mentioned. Yesterday, I found out that one has a crazy alcoholic mother and is deposited regularly by police at the home of a classmate for her own safety. Not to mention the usual range of A to D students in every classroom and their assortment of what passes as a “family” these days.

This is no exception. Most teachers face this very scenario or something very similar. every day of the school year.

So now, the powers that be, implementing the new Australian curriculum are all about differentiation. Apparently they are oblivious to the fact that we already create and support multiple pathways for students. Additionally, we try and heal the wrongs that their families and society inflict upon these children and we try to help the students who have decided to be their own worst enemy, or have been left behind along the way.

When do we not differentiate?

12 thoughts on “Thy name is differentiate

  1. That’s an incredible story and you deserve a medal. I know such children and backgrounds have always been with us, but why is it that it seems to be so much worse now than when these ancient bones were once young? (I’ve been shovelling mulch and there is no bit that doens’t hurt at the moment). I suppose to stay sane you need to not only do the job well but keep some emotional distance.

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    • It is so hurtful to pick up the newspaper and see teacher’s being blamed for yet another fault in our society, or to be told to forget everything already in place, learned from many years of experience in some cases, and to teach in a way that has no research to support it, but meets the political agenda of a government with its eye on the next election. There is a big case for continuing professional development and to weed out those that refuse to update their skills, but I would really like to see some of these parents and politicians try a week in one of our schools.

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  2. I firmly believe that all kids deserve a quality education, but we’ve done everyone a disfavor – teacher and student alike – by shoveling everyone in the same classroom and expecting one teacher and one class to be able to meet the educational needs of the entire spectrum of students.

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    • I agree. I think the biggest fault is that we don’t focus on the process of learning and knowledge, but only on results. As long as we continue the old model of assessment that institutions and even parents demand then our students are never going to reach their real potential.

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  3. Very good point. But how can one person possibly be all that to 30-odd students. Sounds like you’ve got quite a collection of interesting types in there. You could write a screenplay!

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    • Well the expectation is that we should be. Now they want to link pay range to performance, but how so you make a level playing field for all teachers when we are all teaching in different socio economic levels? I teach in “teacher heaven” what about those poor teachers in the more difficult state schools?

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  4. Nothing but admiration for teachers here FD. How you manage to handle day-to-day events with good humour is quite beyond me. Difficult enough without some higher authority changing guidelines on how to do your job.

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    • The politics of education! UGHHHHHHH!
      And as we were told at a recent conference, some of our children are arriving at school not able to use a toilet, or having ever had a book read to them. Yet it is the fault of the teachers they don’t meet artificial national standards. Naplan – where is the differentiation in that? Fancy expecting an ASD child to sit through a day of Naplan!

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  5. My dad was one of the last of the Old Country Doctor types.
    (Even though we lived in a suburb!)
    He had his own practice, and some things he just did his way.
    One thing of these was that he treated teachers for free.
    He thought they did important work that benefited everyone, and weren’t paid nearly enough.

    Me, I can’t do anything as useful as that.
    But I do agree with him.
    It is incredibly important work, and incredibly difficult.
    And not helped at all by the Theory of the Day nature of the educational establishment.

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  6. Wow! What insight into the classroom! I love how you write–and it’s so amazing how many different types of kids you get to interact with. You can truly affect their lives and well being. I always will remember my teachers, professors, and other mentors that have touched me through my academic career.

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