The 10% I Rarely Reach

Jose VilsonEducation, Resources


Today, one of my perpetually tardy students came in. I left my door open and, as usual, I let him in without little fanfare, because it’s not a situation I need to do a lot of yelling for. I told him good morning. He reciprocated. After I got to walking around, I noticed a student passing him work that had little relevance to math. Without yelling, I told the parties, “I need you to get back to work.” They nodded and waited until I walked away. However, I noticed they continued to make it a discussion that, frankly, took them away from the task at hand. I can understand the worry of not having homework done in the class, but there’s this pressing urgency I have in my class because I know the skills necessary for them to get to high school in mathematically sound shape.

This doesn’t matter much to the student; rather, he wanted to complete someone else’s assignment in my class and told me under no uncertain terms that he wasn’t going to do my work at all. I nodded and simply stated that both the giver and recipient of homework (that they ought not copy from one another anyways) would have this reflected on their grade for the day. The giver hung her head, but the kid who was late had no such remorse. He yelled and hollered, making a scene that I’ve withstood in previous years in my career. How I responded was the equivalent of a yawn, de-escalating the situation before resetting the mood in the classroom. As the adult, I didn’t let it escalate too much further.

It just reminded me after the class that, no matter how many students I have, my 10% theory proves true. I honestly believe that I have high expectations for my students, and every so often, I get better at teaching to these lofty benchmarks. 30% of the students will do their best irrespective of whatever teacher you put them in front of. The critical 60% of students will waver depending on the teacher but generally want to do what’s best academically, even if they have academic deficiencies. Yet, for whatever reason, there’s always that 10% that we all concentrate on, and often makes or breaks the class. I’ve had hundreds of students under my watch now, and I honestly don’t quit until the very last day, finding ways to interject some math within what they’ve known.

Yet, I can’t break through. Will I display a snazzy infographic breaking down the excuses based on percentage I believe versus what most likely turns these kids away from me and / or any teacher. I’d love to point the blame at abject poverty, sordid family issues, a series of educational decisions placed upon them that eventually led them to totally hating math, chemistry between present teacher and student, lack of routines in their lives, or a consistent set of supports that might have helped alleviate his angst.

I just can’t. I can only blame the things I can control, or the thing, or … me.

That’s why tomorrow I’ll have to come in with the same temperament, un-rattled, hoping something changes. I refuse to quit on kids like that because they’re the ones that need the most attention. I can ignore the small stuff, but I have to set a standard for how I approach the job. And when he’s ready to come on board, he’ll be welcome in, too. Late or otherwise.

Mr. Vilson, who thinks he’s far too honest …