Tips in helping ‘The Discouraged Learner’

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By Beth Pinyerd

The best lesson I learned as a young second-grade teacher happened to me late on a Friday afternoon back in 1980.
I “thought” I knew the teaching methods I had learned in college that would encourage any young students to do well in all their subjects. I was hung up with new teaching techniques, bulletin boards with the latest fads and theories of teaching in different ways. But, as I graded the last spelling test for that week, I slowly wrote a failing grade on the student’s paper. I sat at my desk feeling defeated in realizing that half my class had failed their third week of spelling tests.
What was I as a teacher doing wrong? I was so discouraged!
As I started preparing my backpack to go home with a heavy heart, I heard the clicking of little feet coming down the hall toward my classroom. I went to the door to meet the student. I was so surprised to realize it was one of my female students who had been absent for several weeks because of chemotherapy to treat her fast-spreading leukemia.
She said to me, “Mrs. Pinyerd, I want to take my spelling test.” At 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, this little girl had come to take her weekly spelling test after having chemotherapy in Atlanta all day!
As I looked at her frail little body, with white chalky medicine on her lips, a nice little Sunday dress, a white knit hat to cover her little head because chemotherapy had caused her hair to fall out, and black shiny Sunday shoes, she laid down her spelling paper.
Holding her pencil, she trembled but was determined to take her weekly spelling test. As she finished writing the last spelling word and I graded it, I wrote 100 with smiling faces all over her paper! She came over to me and gave me a big hug and thanked me for spending time with her and understanding her.
As this little girl traveled through her journey with cancer, she shared her progress with her friends in our class that year. We made each step of her recovery a celebration!
The lesson I learned as a young teacher was that it wasn’t the material things that teach students, but it is the heart of the teacher and the time spent with each student that makes a class succeed. This little girl truly snapped me out of discouragement for my class. She had given me back my hope!
Even though I had a large class, I knew the Lord would redeem my instructional strategy as we regrouped and pushed the reset button.
Because the first report card for many of our local schools has recently come out, I wanted to share a few tips I hope will be helpful for students and families.
When a child is having a hard time learning, have understanding and empathy.
1) Take time to talk to your child. As a teacher, I deeply appreciate when parents want to meet with me in a conference and share anything that may affect their child’s learning. Parents and teachers are a team in the education of a child.
2) Break assignments down step-by-step. For example, divide a spelling list of words to learn day-by-day. This can be applied to other subjects as well until the child is able to master the assignment. Praise them while being positive and specific with them. Being their enthusiastic cheerleader is the encouragement the child may need.
3) Have your child focus on the big picture of learning. When we are discouraged in trying to learn and master a subject that is difficult, we develop a narrow tunnel vision in trying to get from Point A to Point B. Point out examples of things that apply to what they are learning. For example, people that may be heroes to them such as sports’ figures, scientists, explorers, singers, actors/actresses or historical figures who overcame discouragement and learning disorders will encourage a child.
4) Share happiness and joy when a child may be discouraged. When I work and tutor students one-on-one, I find that laughter and a sense of humor overrides the tensions of discouragement and enlightens the child to want to learn.
I hope these few common sense tips help to reset the button of discouragement to encouragement!

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