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The "Heart" of remedial teaching

Sudha Ganesh

Founder & Director at diksa learning centre

When a child comes to a special educator to start remedial classes, the child carries a report underlining his challenges in reading, writing, comprehension and mathematics. This report defines his grade level of functioning, points to the child's poor performance in school and captures feedback from parents and teachers about what the child is not able to do.

However, what is hidden and even heavier than all this is the child's emotions and feelings - feeling of helplessness, anxiety, insecurity, anger and frustration.

The child may be wondering :

  • Why am I here?
  • What kind of place is this?
  • Who is this teacher who does not seem to teach any subject?

He may act out these feelings in the form of misbehaviour like non-co-operation, defiance, aggression, dishonesty and a lack of motivation.

A remedial tutor with a heart knows that she has to first address these feelings even before she attempts to address reading and writing.

She should go beyond a level of merely understanding the child and transcend to a level of displaying faith in the child's abilities.

Unless remedial teachers are able to operate from their heart first and are able to communicate this to the student, they will not be able to inspire and motivate the child to make progress.

Take the case of this young student around 9 years of age who came to me for remedial. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD. He had a very strained relationship with his mother because she found it hard to accept him and his academic difficulties. Though she had sobered down significantly and gradually started to reach out to him, he sometimes defied her and threw tantrums. She would tell me, the remedial teacher "How come he listens to you and not to me?" She asked me what she could do about it.

I suggested that she tell her son that since God could not be everywhere, he sends the mother to nurture and care for him. Hence, loving and respecting and obeying his mother is like loving God himself.

When the mother went back and told her son what I said, the child responded saying , "God has sent Ma'am to nurture and care for me. So, since Ma'am has told me to obey you, I will do so".

This is the extent of influence a teacher with a heart can wield over an impressionable child.

To earn this level of trust from the child, the teacher should have unconditional positive regard for the child and she should be totally non-judgemental.

Only if the student is able to sense that the teacher is someone who believes in him, can she get through to the child.

This sense of faith can be reflected in the smallest of acts. This could include

  • greeting the child with a smile
  • waiting patiently for the child to answer
  • talking in a soft and conversational tone
  • being gentle yet firm
  • clarifying expectations
  • keeping up your promise, however small it may be (like reading a new story in the next class)
  • preparing something exciting exclusively for the child
  • making learning fun
  • rewarding the child appropriately
  • understanding his likes and dislikes
  • taking responsibility for his failures but
  • giving him credit for his success

For the remedial program to be successful, the remedial teacher should

  • be very relaxed and calm.
  • be flexible- She should not get discouraged when one intervention does not work. She should be open to trying many
  • have a never say die attitude- She should be comfortable with delayed gratification. It might often take years for the remedial to work.
  • collaborate well with others- She should team up well with other special educators, counsellors, parents, teachers and other resource persons
  • understand the child's world - Other challenges that the child might be facing apart from his learning difficulty. This could include his family background, his school, his friends circle etc.
  • be a role model for the child . The teacher should first do what she expects the child to do and should be conscious about it.
  • take the responsibility for the learning- If the child fails to learn, it is her responsibility and not that of the child
  • be kind to herself.
  • be a source of moral support for the parents- especially during exams, PTA meetings etc.
  • She should be available as a sounding board for their decisions.
  • be a facilitator and a mediator between the content and the child
  • become the child and look at the content from his perspective
  • teach the child how to learn, rather than spoon feeding the answers, so that he learns to think for himself.
  • give him the arsenal to become the person he is meant to be rather than what others want him to be.

As you can see, the heart of remedial teaching lies in this empathetic, holistic and optimistic approach. Only this will help the child succeed.