On the first day of school back in August I took my third graders to our hall bathrooms after lunch. I had eaten in the cafeteria with them (as we all do for the first two weeks) and was balancing my food containers and water bottle and such. One of my students noticed and offered to hold my water bottle for me. I was pleasantly surprised. Kids at this age aren’t always super aware of what is going on with others and if they do, it doesn’t always occur to them that there is anything they can do.
Again and again throughout the year this girl has impressed me with how thoughtful she is, how kind she is, and what an overall amazing kid she is. When someone is absent she offers to do whatever job they have. I can’t even keep up with who has what jobs and this girl knows it all. This afternoon she said, “Shall I do I’s job?” I had to ask what his job is. She told me, of course, and headed off to take care of it.
During math this morning my kids were practicing 2-digit by 1-digit multiplication. They all had their own white boards and were free to choose the problems they wanted to try. When they completed a problem they showed it to me. I took a picture of them with their work (if it was accurate) or helped them if there was a problem.
The girl above brought over 98 X 4. I read it as 48 X 4. So I quickly estimated and determined her answer was wrong. As there was no extra room on her board I had her erase her work and start again. Something she did without hesitation or complaint. As she sat beside me and worked other students got their pictures taken and went off to do another problem. (I kept thinking I’d offer them the chance to play our math games but every time I took someone’s picture they turned away with great excitement to go off and do another problem. I need to reflect more on that.) One other student was struggling and sat on my other side to work.
When my girl told me she was ready I looked at her board. And again was sure she was wrong, but I was confused. I didn’t understand why her work and her problem seemed so unrelated. By this time she’d spent a good portion of our math block working on this problem. And she was clearly feeling frustrated. Not angry frustrated, like I think I would have been, but beaten-down frustrated.
I had difficulty helping the boy on my other side, checking other students’ work as they came up, and giving this girl the attention she needed. I’m not certain still what I should have done differently. I just know that I did this child a serious disservice.
By the time I realized my mistake in reading her problem she was in tears. I told her how I had messed up and apologized. Then I moved away to give her space and to wrap things up with all the rest of the kiddos. As they cleaned up I went over to her and told her how sorry I was that I had made a mistake that had caused her such stress. I told her she had chosen a multiplication problem that was very challenging (they could only use 1-5 for the one-digit number so this was about as challenging as it could get), that she was really working to grow her brain. I told her she hadn’t made any mistakes, the mistakes had all been mine. She continued to cry. As the rest of the class got ready for music I asked her if she wanted to go to music or if she wanted to go to another room for some time on her own (I was heading to a meeting so she couldn’t stay in our classroom). She wanted to go to music. She lined up with tears still rolling down her cheeks. I gave the music teacher a heads up and dragged myself to my meeting.
When we returned to our room an hour later she came and sat beside me to do some work. After lunch she asked if she could read some more of a book with me that we had started on Monday. She was clearly ready to forgive me, even if I wasn’t ready to forgive myself.
I’m not sure how much of my apology and of my comments about her hard work and challenging of herself she actually heard this morning. I kept her white board with all her work and I’m planning to look at it again with her tomorrow. I’m hoping, with some distance, she’ll be able to see all the things she did well this morning. She’s a student with an IEP and I am afraid I’ve added to her sense that she isn’t smart. I want to be sure she sees how smart she is. I also want to be sure she knows how sorry I am that I did not give her and her work the attention they deserved and that I will try to do better in the future.