I have a senior in my fifth period algebra 2 class who, after failing 3 of the 4 marking periods, has lost all hope in earning credit for the class or passing the Regents exam. Neither is going to affect whether he graduates or not, so over the last few months there has been a slow, gradual decline in his effort and overall concern for our class. It’s come to the point where he comes to class and simply puts his head down for the majority of the period.
I’m horrible and very awkward at outwardly motivating students, but I’ve tried by encouraging him to take pride in his work and preaching the importance of finishing strong. During these one-on-one conversations, he smiles, nods, and looks right through me. He doesn’t care and is very open about this fact.
I’ve also called home. Nothing. I’ve asked other teachers in my school for advice how to reach him. However good natured, they laughed at me. I’ve made it personal by asking him for a copy of his college admissions essay, reading it, and being genuinely blown away. This yielded insight into who he was and a personal connection between the two of us, but there was still no change in his attitude.
So this is exactly the point in this blog post where I’d love to start transitioning into a description of something awesome I did to get through to him. That magic trick that, according to mainstream media and most politicians, all teachers are expected to perform with every student. Well, I haven’t been able to do that. He’s still very much uninterested in our class and I’ve done nothing to change this.
There are lots of issues surrounding his struggles, but I can’t help but look in the mirror. In many ways, I’ve failed him. I could’ve poured more energy into him and his situation earlier and more often.
I’m not proud of it, but there were days when his head was down and I looked the other way, when I made a conscious decision to focus on the other 23 students who were alert and attempting to understand (many half-heartedly) the mathematics at hand. In those moments, I mindfully refused to address his lack of motivation and interest. The truth is, I was at a loss. I just didn’t know what to do. I felt handcuffed. I was frustrated at him, at me, at the situation. I still am.
And I’m not tap, tap, tapping these thoughts out on my phone’s tiny screen on airplane while chaperoning a trip over spring break as a cry for help or to earn sympathy. At least I don’t think so. This just seems like a deed that needs to be done, for myself. It’s to hold myself accountable to never give up on this kid – or any kid like him.
Or it could be because I’m 33,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by 24 teenagers with nothing better to do than think about my students.