What We Don't Know

I’d like to introduce you to Alex.  She was a student of mine who graduated last June.  I met her for the first time when she was in my Grade 9 Academic Math class.  My first impressions of her was that she was a hardworking student who seemed to be interested in school.  I don’t know if a teacher can ask more from a student.


It was midway through the semester when I learned that Alex was also a competitive diver.  I’ll plead ignorance in that I didn’t really know what this meant, except for the fact that sometimes she missed classes for competitions.  Every so often Alex would travel on a weekend to B.C. or Nova Scotia and miss Friday or Monday, or both.  From my perspective, these trips didn’t impact her achievement very much.  She was always on top of her homework and would seek me out when she needed to make up a test.

I saw Alex every once in a while when she was in Grades 10 and 11, but never taught her during that time.  She’d be in “math help” sometimes, or I’d pop into her classroom one day when I was playing #ObserveMe.  Some days she was happy, sometimes when I saw her she’d be frustrated with her academic progress.  She was hard on herself, driven to do well, as she set high academic standards for herself.  

I taught her again in Calculus and Vectors, a course students might take if they are heading on to University to study Mathematics or Science or Engineering.  Occasionally, some students take it just for fun.  In the class, Alex struggled to balance her diving schedule with her school schedule.  She was stressed out about her semester and what to do in the future, unsure if her passion for diving was holding her back academically.

The performance task I gave for Calculus and Vectors was pretty open ended.  Students could solve the two problems I had created, or make up two problems of their own to solve.  In Halton, this task is only worth 5% of a student's overall mark, so I’d rather they not sink too much time into it.  I also ask students to reflect about their school year, what worked, what didn’t and then finally tell me what mark they think they have earned in the course.

Alex surprised me.  Watch her video and see if you are surprised too.  Don’t worry, I’ve edited out the Calculus parts.



I had no idea that she was riding a train from Burlington to Scarborough every day to diving practice.  I had no idea she spent four hours per day without WiFi trying to maintain her marks.  I was blown away by the words she used and the ideas she expressed with her reflection.  She was dedicated, she knew things took her longer to process but she didn’t blame anyone for that, she learned for the sake of learning.  She understood that her part was a bit harder than it could have been but she appreciated the effort she had to use to make it happen.

It’s amazing to me, what I didn’t know about her individual struggles.  I’m so glad I asked my class to reflect on their year because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated each student's individual journey as much.  Our students have stories to tell, sometimes more than one.  Listening to Alex reflect made me appreciate how complex those stories can be and how important it is for teachers to create a space where they feel safe telling their story.