Promise kept.

I was at school today for a planning today for one of the committees I’m on. While on a bathroom break, I saw a kid waving at me. It was the Slacker.

The Slacker is the ONLY KID who failed my class for the year. I work reeeeeeeeeeally hard to ensure that my kids pass, because the only way to fail is to not turn work in, and frankly I think that’s a dumb reason to fail. Every other kid passed. Every single one managed to turn enough work in to pass, even if a few of them just squeaked by. The Slacker…nope. And that’s in large part because his attendance is atrocious (he missed my class 20 times third trimester. That’s 67% attendance, as we have 60 days per trimester), and when you aren’t there, you don’t learn anything and you don’t get your work done. Come to school? You learn! You get your shit done! It’s a crazy little concept, one I hope will someday catch on, but so far, not so much. It certainly hasn’t caught on with the Slacker yet.

He’s a nice kid, but is simply unsuccessful in a regular school environment (fails everything, terrible attendance, can’t keep his hands to himself, can’t get to class on time, doesn’t do any work once he’s in class…just a disaster all around), so we’ve been trying to get him into our district’s alternative school. He was accepted once, after I’d put together a 63 page application, but then his dad didn’t show for the parent meeting, and he was out. We’re trying again for next year, but who knows.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have my kids do assessments of my class at the end of every trimester. They’re sort of anonymous, but I know most of their handwriting and they have the option to put their name if they want me to know they wrote it. Questions about what they liked and didn’t, what I’m good at and what I could be better at, and anything else to add. At the end of second trimester, the Slacker wrote under the anything-to-add section, “I love this class.” He hadn’t put his name on it, but his handwriting is distinctive and I knew it was him. I’d stared at the page, trying to figure out why he would write that when he did nothing to demonstrate that appreciation during classtime.

After a few weeks, I finally decided to just ask him. He’d smiled, looking past me into the distance, and said, “I do love this class. I get to write about what I want to write about.”

Helplessly, I responded, “But, honey, you don’t do that much writing. I’d love to see more from you.” He nodded and promised to start doing more, start sharing his writing more, start participating more. Same promises he’d made all year. Same promises he’d broken all year. Nothing changed.

Anyway, so I saw him waving at me today. He was there for summer school, which was a surprise to start, considering his attendance; even though we claim it’s mandatory if a kid fails two or more classes for the year, realistically nothing happens if they don’t show. Thus a good chunk of our little darlings who should go to summer school don’t.

I walked toward him and he ran to meet me. He looked good; a new haircut, clean clothes, a big smile. “Your hair looks nice,” I said (I like to compliment haircuts because I like it when people notice my haircuts).

He smiled but clearly had more important things on his mind. Thrusting a paper at me, “Will you be here tomorrow? Will you read this?”

I took it automatically and glanced at it. A story of some sort. “You want me to read it and….give you feedback on it?”

“Yeah, and give it back to Mr. Summer School Coordinator.”

I looked at it again. First look: dull introduction, atrocious spelling, terrible punctuation (really no punctuation)…and a kid who wrote. On his own. Something he wanted me to read.

“I would LOVE to read this. I might not be able to bring it back tomorrow, though; is Thursday okay?”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

“And you’ll be here too, right, so can’t I just give it to you? Instead of ”

A bashful grin. “Yeah, sure.”

The page he’d handed me wasn’t particularly impressive stylistically or content-wise. It certainly wasn’t written at a sixth grade level, or even a fifth grade level. But it was a page of writing, from a kid who’d never written more than a few sentences at a time all year long. He’d finally kept his promise to start writing more and sharing it.

I wasn’t planning on going back to school tomorrow or Thursday, but I sure as hell am now.

(Photo credit to A Y U M i,


Cassy said...

It would be too easy to give up on the slackers, but we don't. We hold on to the possibility that somehow, something, someday... will click. Good way to hang in there teacher. :)

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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