You can’t sit next to me!

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!

8 thoughts on “You can’t sit next to me!”

  1. Riley – this post nails something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I had a conversation with a colleague about it yesterday actually. Sometimes I find myself as the “crutch” in a student’s learning. Take away Mr. Townsley and things just wouldn’t be the same. That’s not good! I appreciated your office hours strategy. I don’t have an office hours, per se, but look forward to thinking more about how I could change my classroom discourse and/or interaction with students during their work time to better reflect this mentality of aiding for eventual success rather than holding on until the end.

  2. Not yet a teacher, my experience has been limited to classroom observation and assistance, but despite such brief exposure, I’ve already participated (too eagerly) in the process that Riley is describing. It seems that a student’s sense of achievement in getting to the right place is not the only experience that can become tethered to his or her teacher; even taking those first few steps independently can become just too risky a proposition and not even worth thinking about. I suppose this may be too fine a distinction- starting as opposed to finishing- but I think I’ll try to develop habits that focus my attention on ways that I either kindle or smother my students’ confidence in their abilities to face the unknown.

  3. That’s a great point, Barry. We need to be careful at all steps to let students feel ownership and control over their thought process. I literally remind my kids occasionally of the fact that THEY just did something: “you just joined two separate ideas to come up with a new concept,” and “you just decided that your thought process wasn’t working and picked a new one.”

    These kids are so dang impressionable, you know? It’s funny that they need someone to tell them they are independent, but it really seems like telling them that they have an ability _increases_ that ability!

  4. You are genius for sitting down and writing down you pedagogy. I have been doing this for years instinctively and feeling guilty about it. Have you taken the time to explain it to students as an intention technique to build them up instead of the sort of rude behavior they could feel like it is?

  5. So far I’ve passed it off as a rule of procedure, and it hasn’t seemed too rude. I’m worried that if I make a big deal of this the effectiveness will wear off. What do you think?

    What has made you feel guilty?

  6. I love sharing teaching techniques with kids. It offers insight into what you are learning, which they, in my experience, love to see how you do.

    I feel guilty because of my strong Calvinist upbringing.

  7. Another similar rule is “never do the writing for the student”. As tempting as it is to write while you are helping a student, it is best to avoid it. The student has more ownership and understanding when they write it. But can be very difficult to resist taking the pencil!

    1. I’ve felt my arm tensing, wanting to go for the pencil. I swear it’s One Ring strength attraction. I have to admit succumbing on many occasions. Thanks for the contribution!

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