Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm really wrestling with something

I know we can't save them all. And you can only help those who want to help themselves. But I just had to make a painful decision with one of my students. I'm not helping him any more.

What kind of teacher is that?

It's my second year with him. He's from a bad family situation...a dad with more kids than I can count, a mom with a few kids, and one stable adult: his grandma. But to put him in our school, grandma, who kicks ass and has a high value on education, drives charter buses. Which means half the time, he's with her and sort of on track, and half the time he's with mom, who has zero boundaries. He's from a rough neighborhood and his cousin made headlines recently as a perpetrator in a heinous crime. He's a brilliant kid, great artist....and he doesn't give a damn about school. He says we're all out to get him.

I challenged him on that recently and said that we bend over backwards for him. Honestly...any other school would have kicked him out for behavior by now. But we give him chance after chance after chance. He must think I'm a complete idiot. He doesn't finish a test, I pretend to have not given him enough time. He doesn't turn in a project, I pretend to have lost it. He recently took a test. Literally. He stared at it and did nothing, then left without turning it in. I followed his schedule and said "You must have just grabbed it absent-mindedly...can you grab it for me?" He made a big show of digging in his bag, then not seeing it. I asked him to check my room. He didn't see it. I got stern and said it had 5 minutes to appear on my desk...or it was a zero. Guess what he ended up with? We've called grandma, who is very much on our side. She is wracked with guilt because she can't be with him all the time.

Anyway, when I called him on that, and said that we do so much for him...he thought for a minute and said, "Well, nobody but you cares. You all don't understand." I told him, no, that I can't empathize with him. I can sympathize, and I can listen, but I won't understand his neighborhood, or his family situation. He said he doesn't care anyway...his plan is to drop out at 16 (He's 15 now) and then basically follow the path of so many in his neighborhood. It breaks my heart. I love this kid. I ache for him and his situation. I want to save him from that life. But he's old enough now that he has to make the totally conscious effort of accepting help and saving himself.

I once asked why a bright child like him allows himself to fail, and he said that he wasn't doing well in "regular" school, and he made an "A" on his first test with us. He showed it to his dad, who promptly asked who he cheated from, because there was no way his son would make an "A." Now, I took that with several grains of there some truth hidden in there?

We tried to get him into NOCCA, the arts high school. But he wouldn't get his art portfolio together, and he failed classes. No way could he get in. Every "out" we've given him has been thrown in our faces.

He also mentioned one time that he wanted to just fail out of us so that his grandma will do with him now what she did when he failed his other school: move him somewhere else. He's already a 15-year-old 8th grader. But sharp as a tack and talented to boot!

I learned today that grandma has agreed, against her will, to allow him to go wherever he wants, based upon his ability to pass this year. He has a 28.28 F in my social studies class. He takes no notes. He puts his head down, refuses to read (and he's an excellent oral reader!)He draws during class. Now...some kids process better if they have something to do with their hands...I had one student, over the course of the week, make over 100 beautiful, delicate snowflakes during class instead of taking notes...could contribute to discussions, would stop and read without complaint when asked, and made an "A" on his test. So when that kid does something else, I don't worry. I know he's processing.

My troubled child only fills in his study guides, then doesn't study. He complained that he's failing my class because the tests are too hard. I said he should try taking notes. He said no, that it all comes on his study guide. I can't argue that point...but when I asked if he studies once he fills in the study guide, he said no. Well, wonder my tests are too hard!!!

I'm so afraid of what will come of him. When I see violence from his neighborhood in the news, I read it while holding my breath.

I know I can't save him. I went to the vice principal...numerous times...and she told me, "The teacher shouldn't put out more effort than the student." And so I stopped. I let him in on that. I told him it was up to him to decide to save himself, because I was working too hard, and he was doing nothing.

But why do I feel like a failure?


Emi said...

You're right, you can't save them all, and you have to stop enabling. it might take awhile, but at some point hopefully he realizes what he gave up. you have to focus on ALL your students, you're cheating the others by not giving them the attention they deserve because you're so focused on one

Geoff said...

Man, that sucks. But you're right -- he's at an age now where the only way he'll succeed is if he makes the conscious decision to do so. You can help him till you're blue in the face, but unless he wants it, it won't work.

But think on the bright side of things: how many kids have you already saved? Out of all the kids that you've taught, if this is the one that got away, mathematically, you've done an awesome job. The only way you'd be a failure is if he was the only one you DID save.

Mae said...

I know, I know...And most of my attempts at saving him comes after class. I have so many with so many needs. I was totally enabling him that way, though. And that's what I had to realize. I'm a hardass, and for whatever reason, he had my heart.

Grandma and mom were in the principal's office today...he got suspended the other day. I'm across the hall from the principal's office. Mom was staring out the window with so much attitude, and grandma kept waving her hands in mom's direction. It was so sad. I wonder what the outcome is.

I hope to see his name in the paper for doing something great one day...instead of what I fear will happen.