One of my huge weaknesses as a teacher is letting students fall the crack. I'm going to be real vulnerable here and say that my default feeling is that students who don't try or don't show up or do nothing in my class, do not deserve my extra help.

That sounds bad. But part of that comes from the fact that I don't know what to do for those students. I feel like students who consistently try and show up don't fail. So that leaves me with those who don't try and so I solely place the blame on them. It's easy that way, right?

I have two  students who have been failing my class all year. I keep feeling shocked that no one has done anything about this without ever putting the responsibility on my own shoulders. I've talked to both students' parents one time during this year. Somehow I've convinced myself that that is enough.

I always give students the opportunity to come in and retake tests and very few do. And the ones who need to do it never do. They don't come in for help, they don't come in and retake tests, they don't ask questions in class, and therefore I don't know what to do for them.

Obviously you will fail if you don't try. I have to make myself see beyond that and question why they aren't trying.

What kind of interventions can I do in the classroom?

One elementary teacher mentioned working with a small group within the class that are not understanding. Which I don't do. I feel that if they are too lazy to even ask for help, why would I devote my time to them? Bad, I know.

Another teacher mentioned preferential seating which I don't really do either. I rotate each group to a new group of tables each quarter and that's about it.

How do you get past feeling like they don't deserve help?

What do you do for students who put in no effort? What do you do for students who can't even begin problems or are missing middle school skills like reducing fractions or knowing factors of a number?

What interventions do you use in your classroom?

Update: I asked some more teachers about interventions and here's what they said:
  • Parent Contact (early and often)
  • Recommend for tutoring (narrow down specific areas that need to be worked on) 
  • One-on-one
  • Small groups
  • Modified tests/quizzes
  • Test/quiz retakes
  • Break students into groups, send group to library to work and work with struggling learners in classroom
I feel like I need a form to fill out to document student behaviors and easy interventions. Does anyone have something simple? Our old forms are pages and pages long. I'd like something easy to use and easy to read that shows a lot of information at once.


  1. Elissa,
    I struggle with the same thing you do. I want to help the learners, but how do you help the learners that won't help themselves.

    I do follow this idea, that a 13 or even a 17 year old learner cannot be allowed to make the decision to not learn. They are not capable of, nor should they be allowed to make decisions slam doors shut for the rest of their lives.

    With that philosophy I lovingly abuse them in class and get them to to work during the 70 minutes I see them, however if they do nothing outside of class, and are only humoring me in class and not trying to learn then those minutes are wasted on them.

    The statement "never work harder than your learners" absolutely is great advice, but fails when focusing on this group. They are doing zero work, and that is not acceptable for them OR us.

    I wish I had answers us both.

    1. I agree Glenn. I keep thinking of things I could say in a nice, guilt trippy, beginning of the year speech. But after that, I got nothing. I don't know how to motivate people that don't care because I've always cared. Other than writing referrals, which is the opposite of motivating.

  2. Wow, I really need spring break (starts Monday). Should read, "They are not capable of, nor should they be allowed to make decisions THAT slam doors shut for the rest of their lives." and "I wish I had answers FOR us both."

  3. Please don't give up. It sends a message that you don't care. Instead talk with your school's social worker about implementing a positive behavior plan that's appropriate for that age. Find out what they like and use it as a motivator. Talk again with the parents. Chances are their equally frustrated and their relationship is strained. If so, how could improved effort at school help students reestablish a positive relationship with Mom and Dad? If tensions ease at home maybe the student will begin to see some benefit of engaging in school. At this point it's most likely about relationship building--not necessarily with you, but with their parents. Maybe you can facilitate it with a plan everyone can buy into, and maybe gains will be made at school.

    As far as how to avoid giving up on the child, my thought is that I would never want someone to give up on my child. No matter how difficult he or she can be, I want them to grow up to be a productive member of society.

    On a lighter note, we have them but a year, parents have them for life!

    Coincidentally, today I wrote about the same topic.

    1. We don't have a school social worker.

      How do I use what they like as a motivator to do math? Very few like math at all. And at the high school level, most parents are at a loss as to how to help their student with math.

      I feel like if you pay attention, do the work, and ask questions, you will pass. If you can't even do that, what's the point? I don't give homework or huge tests or anything like that. Show up and do something. That's the bare minimum and I don't know why they can't do that.

      Or for a student who just doesn't get any concept I teach, no matter how simple. What steps should be taken?

      I wouldn't want anyone to give up on my child either but I also wouldn't want my child to do nothing.

  4. Too bad your building doesn't have a social worker. If you are in a public school perhaps you have access to a school psychologist, SpEd teacher, or other resource personnel.

    Our 7th grade team is having similar difficulties with a student who transferred at the start of the year. We are making some inroads using the following behavior plan. Please note, this student is not receiving special ed services. Our team is implementing this plan without any special ed oversight.

    This 7th grader has extremely poor student skills and has tremendous gaps in learning. As a result she has developed a large repertoire of avoidance tactics in order to cope with the learning demands.

    In each of her classes she can earn a 3, 2, or 1 in three areas: cooperation, accountability, work completion. When she earns x number of points she can spend a homeroom period with the home ec teacher learning to sew, cook, etc. This is something she really wants to do so it's the motivator.

    We've accepted the fact that no work will be completed once she leaves the building so she stays after every day working one on one with a core teacher.

    Perhaps this plan can be adapted to fit your needs or cause you think of something else.

    Good luck!

    1. I don't have any experience with behavior plans. I feel like more of my problems are related to ability level, but maybe not.

      I'd like some kind of system where I developed something for 'red flags' as they progressively got worse and a simple way of documenting what happens.

      I'll have to think about this some more.

  5. I had too many thoughts for a comment, thanks for inspiring a blog post! I totally understand where you're coming from. I don't chase kids and I know I won't remember to talk to students in the middle of class, but I can hand a kid a note that says "I want to see you, I care about you, we can work together and you will improve." http://drawingonmath.blogspot.com/2014/04/invitations-for-interventions.html