“Mr. AB,” a third-generation teacher from California, tells this story at From the T.F.A. Trenches, where you can read the whole thing. (Hat tip to Teacher Magazine’s Blogboard.) The main character, one of his fifth graders, probably has fetal alcohol syndrome:
“He cries constantly, he picks his nose, he licks his shoes and, until the recent acquisition of a hearing aid, he talked at the top of his lungs…. He is paranoid, from years of bullying and abuse. He incessantly believes people are stealing his stuff and making fun of him, and he is often right. Yet, he is constantly in search of companionship and tries, each morning anew, to befriend kids who have despised him for years.”
Mr. AB had almost despaired until he picked up a tip from the Internet and turned “D—” loose on a computer.
“Wholly engaged by Multiflyer, hands down the best facts-teaching game ever, D— would happily work at hundreds of multiplication problems. At first I only let him work during the multiplication period, but then, as he never does his homework, I let him stay on the machine during the homework correction too….
“After a few weeks of this intense practice, D— told me that he was going to pass the [test known as the] Principal’s Challenge. When he only got thirty or forty problems out of the hundred, he tried to fill in the rest as we corrected the test. The other kids caught him, called him out, and D— sobbed. He cried to me about how he thought he could do it and how desperately he wanted to pass. I told him to keep practicing. A few weeks later, D— got fifty-two correct. He came rushing up to me as the class counted out our perfects. The class laughed at him but, undeterred, he said that next week, he would pass the test.
“Last week, just as the five minutes finished up, I walked by D—‘s desk and saw something I never believed possible. As my eyes quickly scanned the paper, I did not immediately find it awash with ridiculous guesses. In fact I found myself tracking back and forth across the rows of problems as I looked for an error. I picked it up, telling D— that I would correct it myself. Unable to tell if he had done well or wrong, D— assumed the worst and put his head down.”D— did not ace the test, but he got over seventy problems right. It was a spectacular improvement, from twelve at the beginning of the year, and I announced it to the class. We were all amazed and the reconsideration of deep-seeded contempt was tangible. Most of the students in the class did not get seventy correct at the start of the year and for D— to be within a few months progress of them was inconceivable.”