How to Help Students Who Fall Between the Cracks

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One of the most heartbreaking conundrums in any teacher’s life is a student who does not quite qualify for special education services, and who is failing or almost failing. Often these are the students who struggle to learn how to read at grade level or succeed at basic math or even develop the necessary school skills to manage their learning tasks. As they grow older, these students often shut down, are disruptive, unmotivated, and frustrated until they finally become at-risk for dropping out of school.

The pattern for a student who falls through the cracks in our education system is unfortunately uniform in school after school. A frustrated teacher or parent asks for help because of growing dismay at the child’s inability to achieve even though he or she may be working diligently. Conferences are held. Discussion ensues. The child is tested (often after months of waiting for this service). Another meeting is held where the concerned adults are advised that the child is just barely missing the qualifying deficits for special needs qualifications, even though they still may have many of the same negative behaviors and failures that identified students have.

Too often students who fall through the cracks present themselves as lazy or uncaring. And who can blame them? If you suspect that you have or can anticipate that you will have students who could fall between the cracks, there is a great deal that you can do to support them.

First, learn as much as you can about their learning styles and their school history as well as their home situation. Talk to past teachers and parents or guardians. Study permanent records. Look at test score data. Observe their work habits. Do all that you can to understand the barriers to success for these students. Research their strengths as well. Helping students learn to identify their learning strengths will increase their persistence levels and give them confidence in their abilities to succeed at school tasks.

Another way to help students who fall through the cracks is to develop your relationships with them. While a strong personal connection is vital for successfully working with any student, it is particularly important for a student in this category. They are often so used to adults being frustrated with them that a caring teacher with high expectations who is also willing to patiently help them overcome problems can make a positive difference in the way they manage school.

Students who fall through the cracks, like their classmates, benefit from differentiated instruction. In fact, helping them learn to identify their learning preferences and ways to manage their weaker skills can make it possible for them to work more efficiently. Once of the most productive steps that a caring teacher can take to support students who fall through the cracks is to make learning accessible by providing instruction geared to their needs.

Many teachers of students who do not qualify for special education services hesitate to offer them beneficial accommodations for a variety of reasons: not wanting to single them out, worrying about being fair to every student, and feeling uncertain about the best choices to make with these students. Teachers should feel comfortable in offering accommodations such as preferential seating, copies of notes, extra time, and audio texts as well as other appropriate pathways to success. Offer them freely as differentiation methods just as you would to any student in your class.

It is also important to not give up with students who fall through the cracks. Even though they may not have qualified for special services, there is clearly an undiagnosed need for support that you, as a caring teacher, can provide. Instead of allowing yourself to be frustrated at what can be tempting to perceive as misbehavior or a lack of motivation, set aside extra time to offer your support. Just knowing that there is an understanding and supportive teacher willing to work with them can provide the catalyst that can make academic achievement possible.

For more information on how you can help students whom you suspect of falling through the cracks, visit the Website maintained by We Are Teachers (

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