Brief Observation of My Case Study Student

I wrote the following brief observation of my case study student about two weeks ago for my Adolescent Development class.  The observation, itself, was less than one hour long.  The write up was the first of about nine or ten logs that, together, would make up a comprehensive case study of a high school student.  It is anonymous in all aspects; all names are pseudonyms and no distinguishing characteristics are included.

The purpose for the case study is to learn about the challenges of adolescence, especially as it relates to performance in school, with all the myriad cognitive, emotional, and physical changes occurring in youth, both at school, home and in their extended communities.

I am no longer working with this particular case student since our discussions about his family made him too distraught; he became very sad and emotional when he recalled certain times in his life, both past and present.  While many teachers empathize with the difficult lives of students like this, all too many seem to pretend that challenges like this do not exist for students, and hence, do not offer the recognition and support these students need simply for showing up at school, and trying.  While it may not be as often and as well as teachers, administrators, and others want, it is huge when taken in context of the challenges these students contend with daily.

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Unless otherwise indicated, words in blue italic indicate something that is an interpretation, comment, question, or additional information obtained outside of the observation itself.

Case Study Student Selection

For the purposes of this log, I will refer to my case study student as Tomas, a pseudonym.

I selected Tomas after consulting with my new cooperating teacher (CT) since I had only been at my placement for approximately a week.[1] I wanted to select a male student struggling with school, ideally Hispanic, and potentially one wrestling with other challenges in his life, to include family issues, gangs, and/or drugs.  My CT mentioned that Tomas was in a gang before, but had recently left along with another student in the class, who I also considered as a prospective case study student.

Tomas matches my interest in helping students overcome low academic self-beliefs and who may believe school or teachers do not care.  My wish is to make sure my future students, who are likely much like Tomas, do not feel about me like the following student stated about teachers, in general, in Made in America by Olsen (1997).

“They [teachers] don’t care if we understand it or not.  They’re just putting in their time.  It’s all a game.  We’re supposed to just put in our time, too – seat time.  To grind us down.  To learn that it’s all about sitting still and taking it.”

Tomas is somewhat of an enigma to me presently, since he has treated me with respect, and even approached me to say hi one day outside of class, yet occasionally acts out in class challenging my authority; I do not react strongly to Tomas when he does so, I simply glance his way, make a gesture like placing my finger at my lips, raising my eyebrows, or some other non-verbal signal which he typically responds to positively.  One day in particular, when Tomas was leaving the classroom, he walked close by me and I asked him to come over.  I then placed my arm on his shoulder, like a coach might do talking to a football player, in the spirit of Cushman (2003) in Fires in the Bathroom who states that:

“…they [students] hunger for the power to shape their own futures.  They know that their lives are in flux, and when things go wrong they want someone to help them without shaming them.”

In a soft, but commanding and supportive, voice, I asked him if he felt his behavior that day, laughing and acting out, helped the class.  He responded, “No,” with a smile; I thanked him for acknowledging that his behavior was not helpful and asked him if he could self-monitor more next time.  He agreed, smiling, and left the classroom.

Observation Summary:  9/18/10, 2n Period, Algebra 1

Tomas entered class five minutes late today, slowly walked to his group, took his seat with some drama by slowly looking around the class, smiling at everyone, and started talking with a classmate in his group, another Junior, Andre, who plays on the varsity football team.  Shortly afterwards, my CT wandered over and asked Tomas to take out his notebook so Tomas could take notes; Tomas mentioned that he left it at home.  He also said the same thing when my CT asked him about his homework.  While my CT resumed the lesson, Tomas took notes on a loose-leaf sheet of paper Andre gave him while periodically chatting with the other students at his table of four.  About halfway into the lesson, he laughed out loud when something apparently funny was mentioned at his table; my CT did not look over at him and continued her instruction.  Later, during class work, Tomas received help from Andre on a problem Tomas apparently did not understand.[2] Tomas listened intently to Andre, answering Andre’s questions, and asking his own of Andre while Andre wrote on Tomas’ note paper; at the end of their dialog about the problem, Tomas seemed to understand Andre’s explanation for the problem.

Reflections, Interpretations and Additional Background Info

Tomas tends to come to his second period, Algebra 1, class irregularly[3] and when he does attend, is tardy occasionally since he lingers with his first period teacher adviser for an anti-gang and drug prevention program[4].

Tomas tends to be well-behaved when Andre is present, however, when he is absent, Tomas tends to act out and asserts himself as the higher status student at the table. This change in table politics created an awkward moment a week ago when, for the first time, I asked that table if they had their homework to turn in and Tomas replied “No, and laughed” and the other three at the table laughed out loud as well, looking at me while doing so as if to see how I would react – I simply returned their looks, said something like “oh, bring it tomorrow” and walked away.

One of the students at the table that day was new to the class and seemed to view Tomas as the table leader.  The new student, who I later learned was in the same gang as Tomas, was pointing at other students throughout the class that day, as well as me, whispering with Tomas, and they both were smirking and laughing periodically.  This behavior made me somewhat uncomfortable but I was also curious to see how the power dynamic in the class changed with who was present or not, and to what extent gang influences might show.

I want to learn more about Tomas; I believe he is typical of many Hispanic male students who struggle at school and likely want to succeed but do not have the prior knowledge, skills, or mentors to help him do so.  I am concerned that I will need to select another student since Tomas is often absent and has yet to return a video permission form I provided him a week and a half ago so I imagine that he might be as delinquent with the case study permission form.  I also heard from my CT that Tomas is dealing with some significant issues at home, which I’m thinking might also impact his ability to get his parents’ permission and signature.

Physical Description

Tomas is a well-groomed, large framed (approx. 140-160 lb.), six-foot tall, Hispanic male in the 11th grade at His High School.  He dresses in tan pants with a white t-shirt, the typical “uniform” worn by most male students.  He commands a presence due to his build and size.  He smiles frequently, although there are days when he is apparently sad, and he is very stoic.

Beliefs About Case Study Student

Tomas seems to teeter between mature and immature behavior.  When with a more dominant classmate, Andre, he takes a submissive position behaving quite well, however, when Andre is not present in class, he asserts himself in words and actions, not always positive.  When no other students are around, he drops his alpha male act and conducts himself in a courteous manner.  As an example, one day he walked by greeting me and walked over to me when I greeted him in return.  We started a lengthy conversation about how he was doing, in general, and in class.  It was enjoyable to learn more about him, and to see that he trusted me enough to say hi to me, and come over to speak with me.

I believe Tomas is still defining himself as a male, adolescent Hispanic in a community where crime and poverty are prevalent and create powerful forces that pull him and his peers towards less than desirable behaviors.  While I do not know, I suspect that he does want to reach higher in life than what he may sense is available to him at present; however, he may not have an adequate level of self-confidence to overcome the negative influences that surround him every day.  I hope I can help him develop a stronger and more positive sense of himself and encourage him to overcome his challenges.  My natural style will hopefully enable him to trust me more and more, ideally so that Tomas feels like Lauraliz states in Fires in the Bathroom, Cushman (2003):

“I been looking for a teacher I can talk to, and I think I found that teacher.  I don’t really know how to approach him yet, but when I need to talk about something, I’ll find a way.”


[1] There was not a good fit between my earlier CT and me, so I needed to switch to another placement.

[2] As a side note, Andre failed Algebra 1 twice before and is now one of the leaders in the class, both academically and socially.

[3] He has missed 20% of classes in the past two weeks.

[4] His HS offers adult-led, peer counseling and other intervention programs designed to help students stay out of gangs, stop taking drugs, improve their self-image, and commit to learning.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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