Pandemic lessons on human nature from a math teacher

If pandemic models didn’t see COVID fatigue coming, this indicates that the pool of experts our leaders are relying on may include plenty of doctors, scientists and statisticians — but it’s lacking people who understand human nature.

Daily briefings now focus on the number of new infections. We are being lectured to stay home, except when it is absolutely necessary to go out. We get the usual reminders: distance, wash, mask. Many people have been doing these things conscientiously since the beginning.

Anyone still listening to the daily briefings has already bought in. It’s like a teacher reprimanding a class for performing poorly on a test. The students who are listening often scored well. The students who didn’t perform well might not have the resources to improve. And then there are the ones who didn’t even show up.

Lecturing doesn’t help anyone, and you risk losing everyone. A different approach here is required.

Imagine your math class started with a multiplication drill every day. The expectation was that it would be repeated until the class average reached 80 per cent. You show up everyday, complete the drill, pass it to the student behind you, correct the drill you’ve passed, and wait to see the class average added to the graph posted in the class. What would your reaction be as the weeks turned into months? What if you were one of the students who got 100 per cent on the drill every day, from the very first? What if you were the one getting scores in the 50s day after day and could not imagine reaching an 80? What if you were the teacher who was required to implement this drill?

As a new teacher confronted with this very scenario, I was nervous to change things, but I reached the point where I knew something had to be done. The students who started off scoring 100 per cent became careless. Sometimes their scores would dip into the low 90s — occasionally even the 80s. The students who scored the lowest didn’t improve and were aware everyone else knew who they were. Everyone was becoming more and more discouraged. So I took action.

I prepared packages of practice drills and gave them to the students who needed them. I met with them individually and told them if they could improve their scores just a few points — maybe to 60 per cent, we could achieve the required class average and move on. I asked the other students to help their friends who were struggling. Within a week, we achieved the departmental requirement and were able to proceed to the math drill on division. This time, I photocopied 10 practice tests for everyone before we even started. The class achieved the required score within weeks.

Here’s something for leaders to think about: many people are already doing everything you are asking of them. What else can you do to provide resources and a common focus? Maybe distributing vitamin D could be considered, like they are doing in Scotland. Maybe we need televised national exercise and wellness segments that we can all do together — think BodyBreak with a COVID twist.

And don’t lump the ones who aren’t even trying — like the people who recently threw a large party in a commercial storage unit — with the ones who are. In a classroom, the teacher needs to understand human nature. In a pandemic, the leadership needs to do the same.

Catherine Little is a Toronto-based educator, consultant and writer.

Source Article