It’s the little successes that make all the difference


Claire, Teacher's Aide & Houseparent
Claire, Teacher’s Aide & Houseparent

The sound permeates the classroom, alerting a tiny Bat Signal in my brain.


Someone needs help!!

Sometimes Groans are not too serious. Sometimes they mean that someone just doesn’t feel like working, in which case a quick redirection to the task at hand will do the trick. Other times, a Groan is accompanied by the complaint, “This is harrrrrd!” The problem may indeed be hard, but luckily our kids are pretty resourceful. What is needed is a boost of confidence, “I know you can do it! I know you can do hard things.”

I can hear that this Groan is serious though. I scan the room, and see that it is Joe who is struggling.   He’s got his head on his desk and he’s pulled the strings on his hoodie so tight that all I can see is the tip of his nose peeking out.

I squat down by Joe’s desk to see what is going on. From the start, it doesn’t sound good. I know that he is already behind in his Math. He came to St. Joseph’s Indian School this Fall slightly behind his peers, and has been struggling with his basic arithmetic skills this entire quarter. This week he spent several days in the Health Center, too sick to even do homework. And now he is trying to catch up with the class.

On fractions.

His frustration is apparent.


Not only does he not feel like doing it, he doesn’t think he can do it. He is falling into hopelessness.   “There’s no point! Even if I do it, I won’t get to goooooo.” By “get to go” he means he won’t earn the extra hour of free time at the Rec Center on Friday. All students who don’t have D’s or F’s can earn this privilege, but Joe has a D.

This isn’t going to be a quick fix.

Joe will need to be coaxed out of his hoodie. Then he will have to be coaxed out of his anxiety and frustration about a subject that is difficult for him. His regular teacher, Sandi, is much better at this than I am. Still, it is a worth a try.

I say a little prayer and begin, “Let’s give it our best shot, shall we?”

At first it is like pulling teeth, with much groaning and flopping on the desk. “I cannnn’t.”

Yes, you can. We will do it together. Stay with me. We can do this.

This goes on for about 10 minutes—him flopping, and me putting the paper back in front of him and urging him on. And then the miracle happens. He figures out a part of the problem on his own. Something clicks. “Oh, hey, I know what this is.” Pencil goes to paper. His shoulders straighten a bit. “I think I get it.” More scribbling. “Is this it?”   I breathe a grateful sigh. Yes, yes it is.

By the end of the hour he has finished the day’s assignment. His face is brighter and more relaxed. I don’t know if this will bring his grade above a D. I know it barely makes a dent in his pile of missing work, but for the moment, he is basking in his newfound success. Fist bump!

At the end of the day it is the little successes that end up making all the difference. I haven’t saved the world. I haven’t even taught him how to change fractions to percents. I’ve just sat with a student while he muddled his way through it on his own and kept him from giving up. Sometimes a little support and encouragement is all we need.

Thanks to all who made Joe’s success possible—from his teachers and houseparents who give him lots of structure and encouragement, to his family who entrusted him to our care. Joe also benefits from the small class sizes and individual, coordinated attention he can get at a residential school like St. Joseph’s Indian School. For this, we have to thank the many benefactors whose generosity makes it possible to help a great kid like Joe. Wopila Tankamany thanks!

Claire   Teacher’s Aide/ houseparent

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

4 thoughts on “It’s the little successes that make all the difference”

  1. Loved this story. Thank you for sharing and for caring for and cheering on a struggling child. I will be cheering him on from a few thousand miles away…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *