She sits there, black marker in her left hand, pencil in her right, switching from one to the other like a pendulum, clocked to the rhythm of her observant teacher’s sustained looks in her general direction. Days after an extended conversation with her teacher about the merits of putting in her effort, weeks after a summer her teacher hoped might give her a little time to reflect and grow, months after an incident or two that have never really left her or any of the people involved, and approximately a year after her teacher first met this promising young lady, she’s as disinterested and disengaged as any one student the teacher’s ever taught.
He naturally blames himself. And he has every right to.
At some point, he, like everyone else whose had to confront any student far beyond their natural reach, had to come to a disappointing conclusion: one can’t reach every single child.
I came to that realization sometime my second year when the very students who I needed to reach out to had every and any excuse to excuse themselves from my class. As in most public schools across the nation, sometimes the only way to keep the student in the school is to set a much lower standard for them in hopes they catch up with the rest of the students.
Sometimes they do, and I can’t dispute that. However, some often don’t.
And you’re left wondering a few things about a school’s culture after that finally gets through to you. How detrimental is having that one student who blatantly disregards the school culture help out the rest of the students? Conversely, how much does the student care for your rules when he or she has more existential problems, ones that a free lunch can’t remedy? How much of a hit to your pride can you take when every impassioned speech, well-written lesson plan, perfect seating plan, referral for discipline and / or counseling, cross-meeting with parent / guardian / dean / fellow teachers, triumphant teacher movie viewing, and trials of multiple approaches only works for that period?
If it works at all.
Folks, I’m not saying we should completely give up hope. The 300 or so of you reading this now know I fight as hard as I humanly can. I’ve often take the ones under my wing that others consider untouchable and done a relatively good job in said situations (which is why I often get the difficult classes). I also know that much of the deliberations we go through, worrying about whether a student will eventually come around, don’t often materialize into much because oftentimes, it’s not about me or you. It’s not about whether the student is lazy, inconsiderate, raised badly, etc. The same formula that works on a similar student once may not work the next time. Even more so, you may not actually be the teacher that works for that student.
In other words, we’re human. We err. Bigtime.
Standing there as that teacher who’s slowly seeing his student crumble, I have a hard time scrambling for ideas to fully engage her since I know more than I often should. So what do I do? I continue the lesson, and keep the same standards for every child as I should. Somewhere in there, I hope she can purposely slip herself into the lesson.
Mr. Vilson, who knows he’ll learn something from Pedro Noguera tomorrow.