What If We Were Teaching One Student at a Time?

When we compare teaching in a classroom by a certified teacher to teaching in a more intimate environment like tutoring, things are different.

Academic tutors, often, work with one student at time and frequently with a focus on just one subject area.

Think about the tutoring process. The tutor presents the subject matter to the student; strives to explain the material in a way that the student comprehends; gives them opportunities to practice; provides feedback and clarification followed by more practice; gives them a practice test to see how they are doing; and, finally, sends them off to take a test, often in their regular classroom at school.

These are the same things all teachers do every day in public school classrooms throughout the nation. What is different? The biggest difference is what happens when kids fail.

In the classroom, the teacher’s choices are generally limited and, typically, involves recording the student’s score in a gradebook and then moving the student on to the next lesson, along with his or her classmates.

In a tutoring relationship, when a student has failed to achieve a targeted degree of mastery over the lesson material the tutor’s response is different because their defined expectations are different. Their job is not yet complete. The expectation is that the tutor will help the student achieve mastery and nothing short of that outcome is acceptable.

Subsequent to poor performance, the tutor goes back to work with the student, possibly utilizing another method of presentation with plenty of opportunities for the student to practice, get feedback, take additional practice tests, etc. until he or she is ready to move on. Always, the tutor is there to help their charge in any way they can.

Understand that the overwhelming majority of classroom teachers would love to spend more time with every student who struggles with the material and they do so, whenever circumstances permit. The problem, of course, is that circumstances rarely permit.

The classroom teacher is always a certified teacher while the tutor may or may not be. Certified teachers are every bit as capable as the tutor, often more so. The traditional educational process is simply not structured in a way that a teacher, routinely, is able or expected to slow down for just one student. Rather, teacher accountability is focused on the number of their students who are able to pass state, standardized competency exams.

Our conclusion is that the only reason classroom teachers do not devote extra time for every student who needs it is because the American educational process is not structured in a way that it would support both teacher and student in such activity, and also because it is not a core expectation of teachers. Teachers are not given sufficient flexibility. That some kids fail is nothing more than a consequence of current educational policy.

Try to imagine what a different place school would be if every student was given the time and support necessary to achieve a score of 85 percent or better in all of their classes.

Most teachers reading this post will respond that it is naïve to think that such a reality is even possible. Given current expectations and the way the educational process is structured, they are correct.

Change the rules of the game, however, and the way in which the game is scored and what seemed impossible now becomes relatively easy.

From a systems-engineering perspective, bringing about such change is relatively easy. The challenge is opening the hearts and minds of policymakers, principals, and teachers so that they begin to believe such realities are possible.

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