I work hard NEVER to give up on a kid. NEVER. But my school sports about a 45% dropout rate and sometimes it makes me bananas when I have students who are so clearly on the wrong path… and refuse to help themselves before their lives derail and they end up leaving this institution without a degree.
It’ll make a teacher go loony.
Let’s call her Debbie. (Trust me, her name’s NOT Debbie.) Smart. Social. Outgoing. Vibrant. Missed an entire week of school last week, 4 of the previous 11 days prior to that and comes into class today without even bothering to offer up an excuse as to why she was out. Nor does she approach me to ask for make-up work. Just sits down, bombs on an assignment and knows she’s lost but also knows that school is like whatever to her. She’s lying to herself, telling herself she’s trying but everyone in her life knows she’s not.
I’ve tried being nice, being blunt, talking with calm and common sense, and flipping out — nothing gets through to this student. She is SO CLEARLY on her way out… and she’s only 14 years old. A freshman.
And while she says she cares, her actions show that she does not. I’ve called her house (no answer; no return call) spoken to the guidance counselor, conferred with other teachers — no one can get through. If Debbie is here at the start of her Junior year, I’ll be amazed.
And the thing is, I have so many other kids to teach, so many other students that want to learn, so many other folks who need what I do, want what I have to offer, willingly embrace the things I am trying to teach them that the question enters my head, “At what point is Debbie someone I can no longer deeply toil over?”
On one hand, there is the school of thought that says, “You can’t give up on this kid.” However, for people who do not actually teach for a living in an urban school, that sentiment is MUCH HARDER than you think. I mean how do you make a horse drink once you lead it to water?
Having said that, if I give up on Debbie, it’s a slippery slope. Cause then I’ll give up on Max and Tom and Cindy and Jennie at some point, too, right? Giving up is Pandora’s box and once it’s opened… well, we know how that story goes.
So Debbie fails, Debbie won’t buy in, Debbie seems to be having a heck of a fun life (though deep down, it’s obvious she’s sad, self-destructive and could probably use counseling — but funds for that dried up eons ago and America’s willingness to finance public education and all its various components to the extent America ought to is self-evident).
So what does a teacher like me do? If this were Hollywood, the miracle solution to all this kid’s ills would pop into my head, the music would swell and we’d cut to an inspirational montage of Debbie doing her homework, Debbie in the library, Debbie high-fiving me as she shows me an A on her math exam. (Because, of course, once I get through, she’ll improve in ALL of her classes and not just mine.)
But this ain’t Hollywood. This is what I face. I can’t give up on Debbie but I don’t seem to be getting through. And like I said, I have to move on because there are scores of other kids to teach.
Oh yeah, bubble tests that measure the effectiveness of our school are coming up soon. Hmm, I wonder how Debbie is gonna do?