800% Improvement

At the end of the first week of class I did a round, asking people what surprised them about the first week.

Billy’s response was, “I’m surprised I’m still here. Usually I drop out of these things after the first morning.”

He didn’t come back on Monday, and I never saw him again.

So there you are. Billy, a veteran of starting many programs–back to school, life skills, job readiness–had attended eight sessions the first week, instead of dropping out after the first morning.

That feels like success. If I count with my heart, I call it an 800% improvement in attendance. I’m a wonderful teacher in a wonderful program, capable of producing such great change in a student’s behaviour.

If I count with my head, thinking about funders, I have to write Billy’s experience in my class as a failure. Billy failed, I failed, and my program failed because Billy dropped out after the first week.

Hard to be an ABE teacher when even counting to eight is so fraught with difficulties. How do you reconcile the differences between counting with your heart and counting with your head?

We don’t know how Billy’s counting, although we can be sure he is counting. Some would say that how we count doesn’t matter–that Billy’s assessment is the one that’s important.

But I know that teaching in Adult Basic Education, adult literacy, or GED programs is not an easy job. Dropout rates are higher than in other education and training programs. More students face more financial barriers than university or college students; more students have more family responsibilites; more students have more learning difficulties left over from early schooling; more students struggle with the impacts of violence on learning.

Part of my job is to figure out how to get job satisfaction. (Actually, I don’t settle for satisfaction. I go for joy.) The question of how to count Billy’s week in my program is an important one to me. Somehow the measure of my work has to be more than completion rates. And if other people are measuring my work by completion rates alone, I have to measure for myself, if I want to keep on working productively.

5 thoughts on “800% Improvement

  1. Pingback: Adult Learner Success | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. Hi Kate
    I decided to spend a bit of my first day back at work catching up on your blog. What a inspiring way to start the school year. I want to comment on everything, but need to get on to other, more boring emails and phone calls, so will stick to this one. I, too, like your math, and have spent a lot of time with colleagues looking for ways to get credit for the heart math — both for the sake of our programs, and to honour the Billys.

    And I also want to go for the joy. Your blog is helping a lot.

love to hear your ideas or experiences!

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