Sunday, November 23, 2008

failure to communicate

We only have two days of school this week due to the Thanksgiving break. The most interesting thing about a very short week like this is that, contrary to what one might expect, lots of kids actually show up - those who value education and take school seriously; those who have little hope for education yet take school seriously as a safe place away from home; and those who can't be bothered to think much of education and take school only as seriously as their social circle merits.

Those who value education are relatively easy to enjoy; they do what we teachers ask because they have a work ethic, they trust us to give meaningful assignments, and they want to graduate. Those with little hope are usually easy, too, doing what we ask because they like us and don't want to lose their place at our school, and occasionally they surprise themselves with success. Those in the last category are obviously the most difficult since my job with them becomes more than making lessons relevant, it also includes extensive, exhaustive management (confiscating phones, keeping people in/out of the classroom, intercepting notes and/or nonverbal messages, defusing drama).

One of my students seems to be at a crossroads between having little hope and deciding education is worth less than certain friendships. This kid has been in a class of mine during four of the last five quarters; he most recently talked his way into Literature with me even though he hates books and anything remotely related to books, including looking directly at them. I take it as a great compliment that he spent time trying to convince us (and himself) that he should be in this class. And though I did not expect that we would have smooth sailing, I have been sadly surprised by his behavior. It has become clear that I'm not only competing with his dislike of The Catcher in the Rye, I am the Rebel Alliance to his friend's Evil Empire. When this student is on his own in class, he uses the Force for good - participating [begrudgingly, but still] in discussions, finishing assignments, thinking. But when a certain Palpatine-like person sits next to him, this student succumbs to the dark side. He slouches, he scowls, he pretends he doesn't have an opinion about why Holden picks everyone apart and cusses all the time. It is supremely disheartening.

Friday, everything I did in an effort to reach this kid went wrong; whatever I intended as a positive interaction was taken as a slight, an insult, a slammed door. I know, intellectually, it is not my problem that he makes poor choices or disregards my counsel; it's not my problem that his parents might pay little attention to him; it's not my problem that he's angry at the world.

I am making it my problem to keep trying to reach him though.

I hope he decides to come to class this week; I will test my Jedi mind trick skills.