Friday, March 27, 2009

Doing All We Can to No Avail

It is crunch time at _____ ________ high. The third quarter is almost over, and everyone (staff, that is) is feeling the squeeze. I forgot how much the end of the third quarter bothered me last year, but now it is all coming back.

Waht makes the third quarter's end so disheartening for me - a special educator - is that this is the time when students who have slacked for three quarters are in danger of officially failing for the year - recieving "E's" for three of four quarters. Of course, they have not offiially failed yet so the question I hear all day every day is: what can we do to make sure they pass?

This question would not bother me - does not bother me - when it is about a student who is trying hard but coming up short. I will help those students as much as possible. The problem is that the large majority of those who we are trying to avoid failure for the third quarter are those who have shown little to no effort. It is hard for me to get up the motivation to help students I truly feel do not deserve to pass, pass. It is one of the most heartbreaking parts of my job.

A colleague of mine was the first to fall victim. He has been asked to "assist" a general educator in a class where many of the seniors are in danger of failing (a class they need to graduate). While looking at the students' "numbers," my colleague noticed that almost all of these students have a 0-10% classwork grade, a 10-20% classwork grade, and very nonexistant test/quiz grades. Long and short, these students are not failing because they try and come up short; if it were that, they would have at least decent classwork and homework grades. Rather, they are failing because they do not take the class, or school, seriously. How would you feel if you were charged with helping kids who do not help themselves and "finding a way" to turn their E into a D? Probably exactly like my colleague feels.

I have a Study Skills class, where students can work and get help on assignments for other classes. Recently, two students have been placed into that class because they are in danger of failing certain classes they cannot afford to fail. Both were put in my class last week; I have yet to see them. They have been cutting class. Perhaps they do not want help? Perhaps they are not serious enough to think help warranted? Nonsense, says my supervisors! Find a way!

In all honesty, this is a main reason I suspect that many teachers quit. Those who were once optimists have their hopes dashed on a daily basis, and those who were pessimists become hardened pessimists. I am well aware of the saying, uttered by plenty of busy body mentors, that we need to "focus on the good ones," and "do only what we can." We "plant seeds," rather than grow trees. I cannot accept that. Does that mean I don't care enough or that I care too much?

At some point, we as a society have to accept the fact that others cannot be held responsible for one's own succses or failure. Yes, teachers CAN inspire unmotivated students to learn, but to make such "cans" a job requirement (we MUST inspire even the most uninspired) gets us away from teaching and makes us cheerleading babysitters who occasionally instruct. At some point, we need to accept the fact that those who do not do enough to pass will fail, and that the worst thing we can do for those students is to send the message that we will catch them when they fall. Sometimes, falling is the only way to let you know how important it is to walk.

1 comment:

  1. This is a little off-topic, but I've run into a similar problem a couple of times with my boss. He'll commit the group to an unrealistic goal, and when we protest, he says he'll take full responsibility for it. Then at crunch time he'll dump it on us and say we promised to do it, blame us for being behind schedule and expect us to work overtime and "do what you gotta do to get the job done". I do feel bad for him sometimes, I know he's not *technically* doing it on purpose, but he walks into it with us protesting all the while, and I feel like he's crossing some boundaries.

    I like the posters I used to see in high school that said "Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part".