I Don’t Win Unless You Win, Kid

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

“It doesn’t matter anyway because y’all gonna win before 2:20 anyways.”

The three adults stare at each other in frustration.

“It’s true, y’all do.”

This was one of those times that truly tested this patience thing everyone says I have. It’s the word of a student who’s devolved into playing defense where there are no offenders, walking a tightrope of trouble, playing around with what he thinks is sufficient work to get by. Unfortunately, what happens in all those cases is that kids often underestimate a teacher’s academic and behavioral tolerance for what they do. The consistent little things start to add up, whether it’s a few missed assignments or the occasional nudging other students just to annoy them.

Sometimes, we think students will continue to grow in the trajectory we set out with them. They can grow from the first marking period all the way to the third, then just completely lose their momentum in the fourth for a myriad of reasons. I took a few guesses about what was happening at home, his eating habits, and the general nature of his little pranks and decided to think on it for a little bit. Whatever his mindset, he’s already developed a force field and won’t hear that he’s wrong without some immediate resistance.

The whole conversation spun around in circles of “That’s not true,” “Oh my god,” and “I didn’t say that!” before I finally had enough of the nonsense.

“Listen, here’s our deal. We honestly don’t care who wins or loses?”

“Really?” I knew I had to press the brakes now.

“Let me ask you a question: do you think I’d be here if all I wanted to do is win? For all we care, we could sit here, collect our checks, and not have to worry about whether or not you’re doing well in our classes. Ever.”

He sat silently.

“Instead, we’ve sacrificed 1 – 3 hours when we have all these deadlines to make sure you know what you’re doing to yourself. We need you to remember the kid who you started to become from 1st to 3rd marking period, the one who actually wanted to improve on the things he did.”

He nodded and said, “This is true.” The other adults did, too.

“Please know that if you don’t do well, we don’t do well. The only way we win is if you do. If you do well, that’s the only way we win. We don’t get paid extra for winning, whatever that means.”

Then, I got exact and told him the things we thought could get him back on track. He understood. Then I asked him if he had any questions for us. He didn’t. I asked him what high school he’s going to. He didn’t know. We looked it up for him. I left him to his own devices.

The stories we rarely get to share may become the pieces that inspire our students to win in places where we don’t have an official score.

Jose, who needed to share this today …