Samantha (not Sam; do not call her Sam) joined our 5th/6th period a couple weeks into the school year.

Fifth period was math, sixth period was “Intervention”: a full hour where students with learning challenges had iPads, me, and no curriculum.

It was an absolute dream.

I was quite pleased that my principal trusted me enough to give me a full period to do whatever the hell I wanted to help students learn. Had I known it was my last year in the classroom… I probably would’ve done the same stuff.

Some days, we’d edit photos for our 20% Projects.

Some days, we’d finish up a math activity from 5th period.

Some days, we’d stare at Donte, then estimate how many Donte will fit across the width of the classroom.

A la Oliver Smoot.

A la Oliver Smoot.

Samantha didn’t quite know what to do with my class. It became immediately clear that she’d gotten here (an 8th grader with low basic skills stuck into a double-math period) by using the tried-and-true phrase of the struggling student:

“I don’t know.”

Or "IDK" to the middle-school teacher.


In Teacher Chemistry, IDK + Teacher Redirection = Student Excused.

Without the reagent of Teacher Redirection, the formula falls apart.

In Vaudrey’s class, “I don’t know” doesn’t excuse you from responding:

Vaudrey: Where did this 3x come from? Samantha?
Samantha: I don’t know.
Vaudrey: I’ll come back to you. Victor?
Victor: Umm… we subtracted 7x and 4x?
Vaudrey: Lorraine?
Lorraine: We subtracted 7x and 4x.
Vaudrey: Samantha?
Samantha: … um … we subtracted… 7x and 4x.

I wasn’t surprised to note that she didn’t actually look at the board until she responded.

A few days later, the “Discuss with your table” song was playing, and I swung by Samantha’s desk, knelt down, and whispered,

“I’m going to call on you, and you say, ‘parallel’, got it?”
Her eyebrows shot up and she pleaded, “No!”
I gave a comforting smile, “That’s it. Just say, ‘parallel’. You can do it.”

The song ended and 28 students returned their focus toward the screen at the front.

“Before we talk about slope, Samantha. Are these lines perpendicular or parallel?”

All 28 students turned toward the new girl. She stared blankly at the board. Come on, Samantha. You got this, I thought, my marker in the air. Like my instructions, the marker did not waver, but pointed straight at her.

Samantha took a breath.

“Parallel,” she said.

No question, no raised tone at the end. She was confident. Those two lines are parallel.

I smiled. “Good. Now if these two lines are parallel, then that tells us something about their slope, and I heard some groups talking about it. Ramiro, tell us what your group noticed.”

After a few dozen of those discussions, Samantha began to blossom into a confident young mathematician. She persevered, she took risks,  she responded well to the guidance of her classmates to fine-tune her ideas, and she volunteered answers that were way off (a sure sign of trust).

She also gave a fantastic 20% time project and even came to me early on to ask about changing her group. “I don’t think [other student] will work as hard as me. She’ll just slow me down.”

Alright, Samantha. You can work alone.

~Matt “Small Successes” Vaudrey