Recently, a challenging situation with a student reminded me of a piece that I wrote two years ago but never posted.
Just as students are often surprised to discover that teachers have real lives and real emotions outside of their classroom, adults should remember that students also have real lives and real challenges outside of the classroom. During a recent altercation, this understanding allowed me to remain calm and focused.
I often find myself wondering what challenges outside of class are making these students so angry by 8AM. I wish students like this could understand that many teachers are actually attempting to help them and teach them, not just to punish them. I also wish that our society as a whole could understand how the obstacles these children face on a daily basis also impact our effectiveness in the classroom. And that thought brings me back to the piece I wrote two years ago.
------------ From January 2012------------
104. 106. 110. 114. 114. 129. 144.
Is this my winning lotto number? No...
My gym locker combination? Nope...
Another mysterious number from the Lost series sequel? Not even close...
These numbers show how many classes have been missed by seven sophomores at the school where I teach. Over 100 missed classes, and it's only January.
And I didn't even record the numbers from 9th, 11th, or 12th graders with 100+ absences. Or the numbers from students with 50-100 absences. I can't even believe how many students have over 50 absences by January...
Our staff is working hard to keep all these kids in school: teachers talk with them, joke with them, encourage or discipline as needed, call home, e-mail home, talk to their counselors, and meet with administrators. And our counselors and administrators are doing all they can, but sometimes it seems like these attempts are futile.
Only one of these sophomores with 100+ absences is on my roster, and we work well together when he is in class, but life's other priorities are too demanding, and some are too tempting, for him to stay in school.
It's disheartening when we work so hard to help these kids, and we still can't make a difference. And adding salt to the wound is the way our schools, and even individual teachers, are often judged as having failed these students. The possibility of paying teachers based on student success seems wildly inappropriate as I look at this list of absences.
If my student fails the state HSPE test in March, how can it be fair to say that he failed because I didn't teach him as well as I should have--in the 10 days he came to class? And if he has had such attendance problems since middle school, how can it be fair to say it's my fault for not making him WANT to attend my class? Standardized test scores won't show you all the efforts I've made to help him succeed this year, and they won't show you how variables like absences, drugs, or traumas at home impact his scores. Our students cannot be simply summed up by a test score, and my teaching skills shouldn't be either.
Teachers, like all people, are bound to make mistakes so I'm not suggesting that we be excused every time an individual student performs poorly. However, I wish the American public would dismiss the myth that test scores and absence reports are a supreme indicator of a teacher's performance. If a student isn't in my class, I can't teach him. If his parents can't make him come to class, then chances are that I can't either. No matter how much I try.
Yes, I keep trying, and hoping that things will turn around. But at this point, it feels like our chance of success is 1 in 104, 106, 110, 114, 114, 129, 144.