Posted by teachin' on Saturday, June 6, 2009
A while ago I posted about why I thought the Charmer didn’t want to come back to my school next year. I hypothesized that it was because of money – because he lives a ways from school and didn’t have the money for the bus all the time.
Yeah. Not so much.
A few days later, the Charmer and his friends were in my room again. Towards the end of the period, I asked his friends to leave because I needed to talk the Charmer. I had a whole speech prepared about how the money thing was an issue but not insurmountable, how I could have gotten him to school, how he needed to ask for help when he needed it. Never got to use it. Which is a shame, because it was a totally good speech too.
I started with, “So what happened the other day?”
He shrugged. “I was sick.”
I looked at him skeptically. “It wasn’t because you didn’t have a bus pass?”
“You know, this doesn’t work. This isn’t going to fly next year – you have to figure out a way to get to school.”
“Well then it won’t be an issue since I’m not going here and my new school is like 10 feet from my house.”
“But if you want to go here--”
“I don’t want to go here! I keep telling you that!”
“I know, but you won’t tell me WHY. So WHY don’t you want to go here? If it’s the bus pass--” (And this was my opening, I thought. This was when I was going to masterfully turn the conversation so that I could give my helpful little rah-rah-rah we-shall-overcome speech. Shows how much I know.)
“It’s not the stupid bus pass! I don’t want to go here because I hate it here! Because the teachers suck and the administration sucks and I just don’t want to be here!” He was almost yelling.
I sat. I looked at him. I couldn’t believe it. “Oh. Okay.”
He looked down. “I’m sorry. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. I knew you’d be mad.”
“I’m not mad…I’m just sad.”
“I’m really not. I’m not mad. I’m sad that you feel that way, because…well, because I teach here and I like it here and I think we have good teachers, and it makes me sad that you don’t feel that way.”
“It’s not you. You don’t suck.”
“I know. But thanks.” We sat in silence for a moment. Finally, I asked, “Why do you think the teachers and administration suck?”
He rolled his eyes. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously. These are my colleagues and I respect them and think they are good teachers. But it doesn’t actually matter what I think; it matters what you think. And if you think they’re bad, I want to know why. So why?”
He sighed. Then he told me. Stories of a teacher who doesn’t teach much because she’s burned out and the kids know it; instead of teaching, this teacher tells them stories. Then eventually they have an assessment, and they all get Cs on it because they haven’t done any practice for it. Stories of a teacher who treats different students differently, VERY differently, and again the kids know it. Stories of a teacher who ignores commitments she’s made to students, commitments about grades and work and credit, and instead fails the students that she doesn’t like to teach them a lesson. Stories of administrators who, instead of correcting students for mistakes, humiliate them in front of their peers by making them redo the mistakes repeatedly.
The bell rang before he finished. I sent him to his next class, because there was nothing else to do. But I thought about it a lot.
Everything he told me, I’d seen at points. But I thought…I guess I thought that I’d seen these things as aberrations with these teachers, as minor occasional issues that were surpassed by the strong teaching they do the rest of the time. And maybe for some kids they are, but not for the Charmer. And maybe not for more of them. I started asking other kids what they thought about their teachers and their education; not many, just a few that I knew well and trusted and who trust me, and some of the stories…too many of the stories…were the same. Some weren’t, and that’s good. But.
Once I’d heard his perspective, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to leave, and I couldn’t try to persuade him to stay anymore. Even if the tales he told were exceptions rather than the rule for most kids (which I pray they are), those made up his story at my school. And that’s a story I couldn’t try to keep going.
To be continued.
(I'm trying out adding pictures to make my blog more interesting for visual types. So? You like it? Photo credit to Philippe Leroyer, http://www.flickr.com/photos/philippeleroyer/2070899672/)