by Eileen Carr
I walked in the door and set down my bag. The teacher glanced up from her lesson, noticed me, and called to her students. “Raise your hand if you don’t understand the math.” A classroom of pre-tweens shrunk down in their seats, mortified, surreptitiously looking around at their peers while expertly avoiding eye contact. “Okay then, just take him. He’s so behind. Everyone else is fine.” Nash gathered up his materials and began heading to our table. Grabbing a seat, I quickly skimmed the day’s lesson and brainstormed a list of manipulatives to help today’s student visualize multiplication. Whiteboard, Expo pen, interlocking cubes-- and GO!
This was the refrain throughout my year as a math and English Language Arts intervention teacher providing “push-in” services, or going into classrooms to provide on-the-spot support during classroom lessons. Having relocated to Hawai’i after spending 12 years as a classroom teacher in New York City, I had jumped at this opportunity to put my skills to the test with students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Initially, I had ambitions of bringing greater structure to these sessions, but it didn’t take long to realize how challenging that would be. I was brand new to my school and the Hawaii DOE, and I needed time to build relationships and earn the trust of the teachers. Additionally, this was the first time most of the teachers in this school had ever experienced push-in intervention. So when I showed up in their doorways, I represented a host of stressors, anxiety, and uncertainty.
Why does admin think I need help? I don’t need help. I know how to teach.
Which kids don’t get it? Which ones NEVER get it? She can help them learn the basics.
Who’s got the biggest pile of unfinished work to plow through? She can keep that one on task.
Intervention teachers are intended to be educators who provide support to particular students or groups of students. Their function is to provide additional assistance to students who need it, and their success is largely dependent on ongoing communication and collaboration with the classroom teacher. Nonetheless, they can make a lot of teachers uncomfortable, regardless of their years of experience. Many teachers are accustomed to high levels of control and autonomy within the walls of their classrooms and aren’t thrilled by the prospect of an outsider coming in to watch, listen, possibly even judge. Even when a school’s administration articulates the optimal role of the intervention teacher, an intervention teacher’s presence can often be incorrectly perceived as an intrusion, a nuisance, a threat.
The greatest realization that took place during my year of transitioning from classroom teacher to intervention provider was this: Intervention services are not only about supporting the teacher, they’re about supporting the students--as a team. An intervention teacher is not an assistant, but rather a qualified teacher trained to provide differentiated support to students based on their diverse learning styles, academic readiness, needs, and goals. When an intervention teacher offers services to a classroom teacher, they are certainly striving to support the classroom teacher’s objectives. Equally importantly, they are there as a support to the student(s) in need. They are best able to accomplish that goal if there is clear communication, trust, and a commitment to working together as partners. Over time, carving out concentrated moments to put our heads together to envision teaching trajectories was something that my classroom teachers and I learned to value and work towards.
Classroom teachers are the primary links between their students and the resources that a school has to offer. Classroom teachers play a critical role in identifying potential small groups, describing learning objectives, and clearly defining goals and deadlines. They know their students best and are in a unique position to advocate for their students. Intervention teachers can provide additional small group experiences, allowing classroom teachers to attend to their primary responsibility of managing and caring for a larger group of learners. Intervention teachers can assist classroom teachers in their goals of reaching the broadest range of students possible while offering students a more intimate forum to grow and learn. In the context of these small groups, students of all skill levels can deepen their understanding, hone their skills, and give voice to concerns that may be out of place in a larger setting. Working together, classroom teachers and intervention providers can come together to provide targeted groups of students with just what they need.
Nash pushed one final row of cubes into place. He began counting by ones, then stopped himself. “Wait, I can use multiplication to do this faster, right?!”
“Yeah, and you can even break it in half and double that,” Maya explained.
“Exactly!” I crowed. Maya showed Nash how to halve the array, and they worked together to find their total.
“I would never have asked that question in front of the class,” he confided.
“Working in a small group makes me feel like I can be good at math, too,” Maya agreed. She smiled quietly with the enormous pride of being able to help someone else understand.
There is power in teaching partnerships at the classroom level. The range of needs, abilities, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, and proficiencies in any classroom is vast and ever-changing, and therefore the range of approaches should also be differentiated. The possibilities for supporting students can flourish through the combined creativity and pedagogical expertise of multiple teachers. Think about the various dispositions in your classroom. Are there students with boundless creativity who struggle to put the first markdown on paper? Students with insatiable appetites for challenges? Students who just want to run free? Through collaborative conversations with teachers in my school, we developed an intervention program that supported these learners with mathematical song-writing, advanced math study groups, and behavior modification plans that led to free play. All of these interventions were designed to suit specific learners, and all of these interventions arose from creative collaboration and two pairs of hands on deck.
The next time you have the opportunity to work with an intervention provider, say yes. Get to know your provider’s interests and strengths. Describe your class, and encourage your class to develop a relationship with your provider. Give them a minute to say “hello” and talk story. Check in frequently about how things are going, and don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. Find a system for communication that works for you, whether a jotted summary of the day’s progress, a quick verbal check-in, or an email. Have lunch together periodically. Trust your provider and know that she is there for the same reason that you are. Most importantly, trust that allowing your students more opportunities to talk, more opportunities to try, more opportunities to be challenged, can only lead to more opportunities to shine--for everyone involved.