I teach about 90 juniors a year. Ten or fifteen of them will, in the first month of school, identify themselves as troubled. Academically, emotionally, cognitively, what have you. Students who won’t turn in work, won’t study, or won’t shut up or stay awake in class.
About seven of those fifteen will leave: change schools, get arrested, get really sick, or move away. Another seven will find a way to tread water through the year, spending most days in in-school suspension, or getting their wild behavior issues under control, but not completing nearly enough assignments to pass.
I don’t use this observation to dodge responsibility, or to prejudge the kids. It’s just me reminding myself, “This is how things usually go, even when I’m doing my best. It’s not me. It’s life.”
Of this year’s fifteen, here’s who I have left:
One is still quiet as a mouse, rarely speaks, but started doing work, slowly but surely coming up to a C.
One recently incited a perfectly level-headed girl to start smacking him, and still needs me to guide him back, about every five minutes, into something that fascinates him. Otherwise he will joke loudly and continuously about marijuana.
One got really into our letter writing project, and spent time after school researching and correcting other students about pregnancy myths.
One will get a good enough score on the Advanced Placement exam to change her “I don’t finish homework” F to a “Let’s face it, I certainly don’t need summer school” C.
One, in February, figured out how to pass a vocabulary quiz, and then never studied that way again.
One turned pretty quickly toward the light, and then, with time, pulled a less-gifted sibling onto the road to passing.
One left today, coming up to give me a hug, taking my card, and a library book that I didn’t care if he ever returned. One made me sit a full five minutes doing nothing, just sitting at my desk, aching, looking past my computer monitor, and to remember this advice about students: “They”re all on their own journeys.”