An experienced elementary school teacher is having problems with a pre-first grade class in which every student brings unique (and difficult) problems into the classroom, leading her to wonder if she is reaching anyone.
Alice Peterson drove to work mentally agonizing over the same dilemma that faced her every school day: how to help her students learn. Alice taught a class of prefers-grade children at the Mason Elementary School in Eastvale, a small town outside Chicago. This year was proving to be the most challenging and the most frustrating of Alice’s twenty-eight-year career. The Eastvale school district served a heterogeneous school population. More than 40 percent of the
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This year, however, Alice thought her class configuration made teaching almost impossible. The two white children in her class were not simply immature; they each had serious deficits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Therefore, the other children, all of whom were black or Hispanic, saw the “normal” white children being promoted to first grade and saw themselves placed in pre-first with other minorities or with white children who had obvious handicaps. Alice felt sure that these children had internalized a negative self-image as a result. Because they believed that they were dumber, slower, and naughtier than the other children in the school, Alice thought, they performed below their individual potential and ability. At six years of age, these children were still enthusiastic and endearing; they each very much wanted to learn to read, for instance. But their home environments and individual histories had made them emotionally needy, and they often “acted out” to gain attention. Alice knew that children this age all craved a teacher’s attention, but most children wanted to be noticed for positive things. It seemed to Alice that her students this year were happy even with negative attention. As a result, her class was often rowdy, rude, and inattentive. Alice