Monday, April 19, 2010
Half of my students are failing.
Habitually late, continuously sick, incapable of turning in work, those who fail are all to eager to give up when confronted with a challenge, ready to avoid anything that requires thought or mental effort. Some don't try at all, because for them school is a layover, purgatory before they reach their final destination.
Then there are the students who believe they have remained in first grade, perpetually stunned when I inform them they are failing all their classes.
"But, but I'm a good boy." a student declares, emphatic.
"Yeah," I retort, "but you don't do any work."
"Yes, yes I do!"
"Show me." I order.
The student opens up his notebook, and with the exception of a few journal entries, it's empty. No home work, no final projects, no notes. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
"Sorry kid, you need to work harder."
"But I'm a good boy."
I could tell you that students fail because of poverty, or cultural differences, or lack of parent involvement.
But I'm not in the business of making excuses. It's not their fault they are failing, it's mine. They are failing because I don't care.
A few of my colleagues don't hesitate to point this out. "You don't care anymore Leiken. What happened to you?"
"Seriously, these kids need help. You need to be there for them. You shouldn't have put Sam in that government class. He can't handle it, he's falling apart."
I shrug, there wasn't much of a choice, all the other classes were full. Not that it matters, even if Sam came back for a 5th year and passed all his classes, he still wouldn't have enough credits to graduate. "Sam hasn't done anything for years," I counter, "he should be a senior and he only has sophomore credits."
"Well now he's trying, Leiken! You need to give him a chance."
"Not trying hard enough. He's still failing all his classes."
"That's because he's depressed. He has a bad home environment."
I shrug. I've heard it all before. What difference does it make why he fails, the fact is, he is still failing. The cop doesn't care when he pulls you over for speeding, the land lord doesn't care when you don't have money for rent. But I was late for work! I lost my job! My child is sick!My girlfriend gave me herpes! Blah, blah, blah.
Sorry, but the world moves on.
Again and again I hear the same complaints, a cacophony of blaring horns that drowns out the ability to listen until finally, you become deaf to the pleas, the whining, the excuses...
In some cases, the students are so helpless they remind me of slugs drying up on hot pavement, unable to slither to safety. One such slug never brings a book to class, (or pencil and paper) claiming that his locker is jammed and he's unable to open it.
"Why don't you tell the office to fix it?" I ask, knowing that as I ask the question that this conversation is a waste of time.
"I did," he responds, "but like, they told me to retry the combination, and I had forgot it, so I had to pay them a dollar for the combo, and when I tried it the locker still didn't open, so like I wasted a dollar. What do you want me to do, go waste another dollar?"
No point arguing. I take him to the attendance office, whereby I pay a dollar to get the combination to try the locker for myself. I fumble with the lock, it's been years since I've actually had to spin a lock in place, twice to the right, once to the left, then back to the right again.
Nothing. The locker doesn't open. I try again. Nothing.
"See, Mister!" the kid crows. "I told you, waste of time."
I go find an assistant principal and ask for a key. She is glad to help, but first I have to fill out a form to have the locker opened. I make the student do it. Five more minutes, zapped away, POOF!
"How was I supposed to know to do all this!" the kid complains. "No one told me!"
The assistant principal tries the combo for herself. Nothing. Finally she gets out the key and opens it.
The locker's empty. There are no books, no pens, no paper. It looks like it's never been used.
"I don't understand," the student mutters, dumbfounded. "Where are my books?"
"If you can't find them you'll have to pay for new ones. They're expensive, $70-$100 dollars each."
"But that's not fair! You can't expect me to pay for books! Someone must have stole them!"
"How could they have stole them when the combination to the locker never worked?"
The student stares into space, silent. I've got him, one more witness nailed to the stand.
Bite me, Matlock.
But this time, I walk away. If a slug doesn't want to dry up on the sidewalk it actually has to want to move off the sidewalk.
I only have twelve students on my caseload, and six of them are failing. They don't study, don't complete assignments, don't bring their books, and for the most part can't be bothered to pay attention. Their parents are absentee, college is outside their imagination, they have no idea what they want to be when they grow up, and no idea how to get there.
Most of them have lost the ability to dream.
But I'm not in the business of making excuses. These kids are failing not because they are unmotivated, but because I refuse to dream for them.
But, hey, as I told you, it's my fault. It's my fault I don't do their homework, it's my fault I don't continuously check up on them, it's my fault I ask them to come after school, but never make them come.
It's my fault I don't want to be a babysitter.