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.


Biscuit said...

One of the most frustrating qualities of kids is exactly what makes them kids - a complete lack of perspective and foresight. This kid, despite himself, obviously admires you. Keep up the fight, I think his resistance is a facade.

shrink on the couch said...

My Rx: Heavy on the encouragement, light on the red ink, and extra dove chocolates in teacher's top drawer.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Succeed you will, I think.

Melanie said...

Jenn totally stole my line.

Sarcasm is just one more service I offer. said...

I agree with Jenny. It definately seems like he admires you. I hope he comes around soon. Good luck.

Gretchen said...

Stephanie, you are a true testament to teaching. I cannot imagine the challenges you face every day with teenagers, let alone the ones at your school.

I taught high school for 4 years, 2 at public and 2 at private. The later years I enjoyed the most, but also felt like "Shouldn't the "best" teachers be teaching at the "worst" schools? Isn't that where they are needed most?" I selfishly looked at my own job satisfaction as more important... you are truly reaching out to the students who will benefit from your wisdom.

Keep reaching. I really believe that every kid is just waiting to see how much they will have to push back to see exactly when an adult will give up on them. Don't be that adult. This one has potential. Make him see that. And make sure he knows his worth.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

Just keep trying, friend. Sometimes that's all we can do.

brandy101 said...

Bad Mom <----- Teacher of The year

(In my book at least. Keep on keepin on!)

A Gilmore Girls Fan said...

It's strange for me to read a blog from a teacher's perspective. I was totally a troubled student, though I was very smart. When I was young I was in all the special, G.T., classes.

For me, it was totally home stuff. When you mentioned how it isn't your problem his parents don't care enough I couldn't help but wonder what my teachers must have thought. I had a few teachers who really reached out to me and I opened up to them. Those teachers were in my life for many many years after I graduated.

I actually credit them for my even graduated. I had two alcoholic parents, one of which was also bi-polar, and we were jumping from home to home. Long story short, I moved out before I graduated high school.

So, I guess I just wanted to give you some perspective from an ex-troubled student. That is to simply ask if there is anything going on. They might say no a few times, but if they are anything like me, they will cave quickly.


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