A colleague of mine, D, has a theory that makes a lot of sense: when a teacher helps a student work on something all the way to its completion, the student associates the final success with the presence of the teacher. I used to help my students all the way through a math problem and then be surprised when they couldn’t seem to do the same work when I wasn’t there. D recommended that I help a student only to the brink of success, by making sure that the student has all of the necessary tools for the situation, and then getting out of there before the actual achievement takes place. In part, to make sure I’m not just giving away the answer, but also so that the student can experience success when he’s alone!
I offer “office hours” out of my classroom after school. It’s free-form, and students can come in and ask for any kinds of help, test out of a skill, or trade math jokes. I usually get a lot of work done while 3 or 4 kids work on their homework. This year I started a new rule: no students can sit near me. They thought I was joking at first; some students would even sit down right next to me as I was telling them they couldn’t, and I’d have to make them get up and move. It’s hard to keep enforcing the rule, but it makes it much easier to get away from the students before they make their breakthrough!