Last year I had this student who struggled in Algebra II. And then, one day, he decided he hated struggling. He was frustrated and didn’t want to be frustrated anymore. He wanted to get math. And so… he did. To the point where he was getting almost perfects on assessments.

This was a student who I always thought highly of (I knew him both inside and outside of the classroom), and when he was frustrated, I felt for him. And when he made a dramatic turnaround, I couldn’t have been more elated. I have to say, there are some students who you just *want* to ask you to write college recommendations for. And these college recommendations just roll off the keyboard. He asked me, and I remember sitting down, and going at it. I think it ended up being two and a half pages, and I had to edit it down to be that. He exemplified the transformation that I hope all my struggling kids go through, but his transformation was the most dramatic of all my students last year.

Because I wanted my kids this year to know that they can struggle, and come through the other side, I invited this student to come talk to my class for a few minutes and talk about his frustrations. And how he made his transformation. I want to show my kids that they *can* be more successful, but there is no royal road to mathematics. The way to be successful is to *work hard*.

The key points that my former student made when talking to my kids:

- One day, one moment, he said “enough’s enough.” And he made a decision to do well in math. He was sick of that low grade on his report card, year after year. It was this moment that changed it all, because he changed his mindset to “I can’t do it” to “I will do it.”
- He said that doing well in math has a lot to do with confidence. He didn’t have a lot of confidence, but slowly when things began to turn around, he became slightly more confident. And then more confident. And now, this year, he is
*overconfident*in math. - He said that those annoying “explain this” questions that Mr. Shah asked were… annoying. But once he learned
*why*I was asking them, that I was trying to get him to understand more than procedures, but to draw connections and see everything fit together, they made sense. - He stopped looking at each test as something that needed to be crammed for the night before. Instead, each night he would work on understanding the material. And when doing this, he saw connections.
- He entreated my kids this year to try to draw connections between everything we’ve learned. Because that’s how it all hangs together. That’s what made everything click for him.
- He also said that even though he failed the first five binder checks, he finally figured it out. And he could be organized.

I don’t know if his message got through to any of my kids, but I do know that *me* saying these things isn’t going to do as much as a kid who went through the trenches and came out a hero.

So if you want to honor a kid who was awesome, and maybe (possibly?) get through to your class, think about inviting a former student to give a short guest lecture!

PS. I have former calculus students stop by all the time, and I always make them come to class. Sometimes I’ll leave the room and have the student talk to the class alone, about what recommendations they might have for my current students, sometimes I’ll stay, and sometimes I’ll have ‘em talk about college life, and how everyone gets through the college application process, and how truly there is light at the end of the tunnel (even when it may not feel that way).

I love this! What a great story! :)

I wonder if you mind sharing what you require in binders? I am having my students set up a binder/notebook for 2nd semester and trying to decide what is most important.

http://samjshah.com/2010/01/15/binder-checks/ and http://samjshah.com/2010/05/24/binder-checks-redux/

the only thing i’ve changed this year is i made all 5 points for correctness. neatness was a useless thing and i wouldn’t take off for it. so it seemed like a fake category to grade them on.

Thanks!! I really appreciate the super prompt response too! I guess I need to read further back in your blog :) It’s my first year teaching so I’m new to the world of teacher blogs!

Thanks for this idea. I had a frustrating day in Algebra I and asked my Algebra II students what I should do. This idea just gave me the best idea of an Algebra II student who may be able to speak to my younger babies and maybe have a positive effect.

I wish we could bottle that for future years. There’s always a moment in every class, once a year (at least!) when you want to stop everything and have the former student walk in and talk candidly with that kind of positive energy.

I have been doing this the last two years with 1 or 2 “turnaround” sophomores coming to talk with my freshmen. The freshmen love it and the sophomores are delighted to tell their story!

Our school has many ages mixed together for different classes, so I get to hear conversations similar to this spring up organically and it’s awesome to hear older students reassuring younger students. My favorite part of having students talk across levels like this is when we’re hashing through some finer points of algebra or geometry and the students find it tedious or frustrating. They will ask when they’re ever going to use it again. I can send them straight to some of my older students who are studying pre-calc, calc or physics and my older students will convince the younger ones of the importance of the topics they’re studying. It goes down much more smoothly when it’s from another student.