When I came into work yesterday, I found this note on a crumpled piece of paper attached to my office door:
Can u call me 4 the test?
followed by a telephone number and a name—the name of a student who hadn’t shown up on Monday to take his final exam.
When the student did show up in my office, later that day, he asked me why I hadn’t called him. I took a deep breath and presented him with this scenario: imagine you don’t show up for a job interview and you send an e-mail to your prospective employer asking them to call you to find out why.
Does that sound right? I asked the student.
Um, no, he said.
Well…? I stared at him for a few minutes. Then, something about the analogy and the stare turned on a light bulb over his head.
I guess I should have called YOU, he said.
So much of teaching is like parenting; so much of it demands you step back and see your students as whole people, kids still, who are trying so hard to grow into their adulthood. Sometimes, when I’m struggling to try and get my students to learn about grammar and introductory paragraphs, and thinking critically, I feel torn--is this really what they need? So many students today need some basic lessons on how to interact professionally and personally; how to study effectively; how to take notes, ask questions, seek out help--their survival truly depends on these critical skills. I hear so many anecdotes like the one above one from colleagues all over the country. Clearly something has gone wrong along the way for many students and so many young adults are showing up in college woefully under-prepared and at a loss how to make things work for them. When were these lessons missed? Who's responsible?
A month or so ago a young lady walked into class 25 minutes late. I had just taken up a short quiz the students had taken. She saw me gathering up the papers.
Can I take the quiz? She asked, in a tone that implied she had the right to.
No, I said. It's over, and we're moving on now.
So I can't take it? She asked again, a tone of another sort creeping into her voice. When I told her "no" again, she threw herself into her chair and muttered the word "stupid" loudly enough so I could hear.
A few days later she turned in a reflection paper and in it she mentioned that she had two kids living with relatives in another state while she was at school. She wrote about how proud she was of her kids for being "respectful" kids who minded their manners.
Hmmm....I thought, when I read that. I wanted to talk to the young lady about her paper, and connect her behavior in class with the values she so obviously wanted (or thought she should want) to see reflected in her own kids. I wanted to reach out to her, to tell her I was in her corner, and I wanted her to succeed. Clearly she understood what respect meant on at least some level, yet she couldn't model it herself. Why? What would have happened, I wondered, if her kids had been sitting in the back of the classroom? What would she have done?
I wish I had the answers. I have the feeling that if I did, I could do something for more of my students--the ones who truly fall through the cracks. I'm sure I could. I hope I could.