Education matters. All you need is a willingness to teach and someone with a willingness to learn. No money, no teaching certificate, no college degree or state license. Just you the teacher and the student.
Jessica was 16 when I first met her in 2006. She was Donna’s (my then girlfriend and now fiance) grand daughter. Jess was in the 10th grade at the time. Donna said she had trouble with math. Since I’m good with math and had helped many people over the years I was intrigued. Just to see where she was I started with what I thought would be easy for her. I pulled some change out of my pocket, less than a dollar with mixed coins, and gave it to her and asked “How much money is that?” She looked at the coins and said “I don’t know”. I then started asking simpler questions and found she knew the names of the coins but not what they meant. Not to mention how they were related. How could this be? Tenth grade!
As Donna explained, Jess had developed scarlet fever when she was 4. Her temperature had climbed to 106 by the time they got her to the hospital. Since Jess had appeared normal up to that point it’s reasonable to assume that some brain damage had occurred and her subsequent difficulty in learning had been attributed to that. The next few years Jess showed progress comparable to her classmates in every subject except math. Then, in the 4th grade, the school classified her as ‘challenged’ and she was put into the IEP program. IEP, or Independent Education Program, was supposed to be a tailored program in cooperation with parents. I’ll leave it to the reader to do their own research into IEP which resulted from the No Child Left Behind act. Suffice it to say that its more like baby sitting at taxpayer expense and no further effort to address her education is required by teachers or school administrators. She was outcast under the guise of ‘being special’.
As time went by she fell further and further behind her classmates and soon she didn’t fit in anymore. Nonetheless, she always remained cheerful and actually liked school. She emotionally persevered in spite of the circumstances.
That’s where she was in the tenth grade when I became aware of her story. I was so angry at the injustice but my anger wouldn’t help her. I had to educate myself about how Jess perceived math. Jess became the teacher and I was her student with lots of questions. I didn’t understand many of her answers but I kept asking questions. Gradually, over a period of weeks, I learned she couldn’t perceive math the way most people do. But there was one thing she could do. She could count. By one’s, two’s, fives and ten’s. I thought if there was any way she could learn basic math, I would have to learn how myself, but do it her way. I referred to it as ‘advanced counting’.
Over a period of 9 months Jess spent 15 to 30 minutes a day doing repetitious exersizes with almost imperceptible increases in difficulty. Gradually she learned to could by two’s but with odd numbers. Then by fives but start with any number but five.
Then, for her final exam, she had to pretend she was a cashier and a customer wanted to buy a pair of shoes that were $16.42. She was given a $20 bill and had to make correct change. She passed getting the correct answer.
THE PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCE (PAYBACK)
Periodically Donna and Jess would attend a parent teacher conference. I started attending and listening. After Jess finished her final exam we took half of her work (I couldn’t carry it all) to the meeting. Her teacher, the vice principal, and 4 other staff were present. I told them about all the homework Jess had done, pointing to the two foot high stack of completed assignments. I told them Jess was able to learn in 9 months what they failed to do in 6 years. The vice principal’s head dropped in what I hope was shame.
Then I said, “You people teach tenth grade, Jess is at fourth grade level in English. Are you incapable of teaching 4th grade level?”
One person responded “That wouldn’t be fair”. Another responded, “Why do you want her to learn to read anyway?”.
Parents, your children may not be getting the education that you think. Its not 1960 anymore.
Personal note: I wasnt teaching math. I was teaching Jess. The difference is, if she failed, so did I.