It’s Only November

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Nov
  • 07
  • 2007

Kid: “I’m not getting anything here. Teachers aren’t teaching me anything.”
Me: “So maybe teachers do have something to show you and maybe you don’t know it all.”
Kid: “Tell me one thing teachers have taught me here.”
Me: “Maybe some teachers know better than you and are trying to give you information that you don’t think you need, but that we think you do. And since we’ve been there already, we know you’ll be better off if you know this information.”
Kid: “Let me learn from my mistakes. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
Me: “I get paid to worry about you and I do worry about you.”
Kid: “Please, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. But I’m not getting anything here.”

What do you do after that conversation? What if you believe the kid’s right? What if that opens your eyes up to the hundreds of kids slouching around campus to whom this exact same line of logic applies? What if this system isn’t the right fit for everyone and a student throws that fact right in your face? And it’s only November?

I mean, I sort of think he’s right. Though he’s a bad writer and a poor thinker, he’s not getting anything here. Not because there’s nothing to get, but because he’s decided not to get anything. He’s decided that only things that interest him directly and immediately are worth learning and he’s angry that he can’t just up and leave. The kid who says “You can’t teach me anything” and believes that into the core of his being is correct. And only because that statement has been made, not because it’s necessarily true.

So how do I teach him and the rest of the class, the rest who actually want to learn something about writing and reading, the rest who acknowledge that they don’t have it all figured out, the rest who know that I don’t either, the rest who want to travel together to learn a few things between here and June?

I hate feeling this frustrated. And all over one kid.


1. Ben Chun says:

[11/10/2007 - 10:20 am]

Interesting that he’s willing to have the conversation at all — I think that means there’s hope. Some kind of personal connection. Something. You can trade on that. My question to the student is this: Is it the teachers job to make you learn? In fact, is it possible for anyone to MAKE anyone else learn anything? If not, then he has to accept some responsibility. Just that small step would mean a lot. Then you would be able to get back to the job of presenting curriculum in a way that either feels relevant, or fun, or both… reminding him when necessary that you can’t force him to learn anything, that it’s his decision, but that you think he’s capable, that he has something to contribute, that you want him there. I don’t really know.

You asked a deeper question about how the system works, and I think it’s on us to make it work for students by helping them see that while it might not be perfect, it’s the opportunity that’s in front of them, and a decision to blow off an opportunity is a decision against a good life.

2. Todd says:

[11/10/2007 - 1:21 pm]

Turning it into lemonade, sure, but it’s still a bunch of sour lemons to start with. I get what you’re saying, but I buck against the idea that it’s up to me to make a faulty system work for students it never had in mind. I can try to make the whole thing easier on them, but bottom line is that it is not for everyone. The doors out of the system need to be made more visible and available (GED, proficiency exam, trade school, vocation, etc.).

This student is an odd one because he bounces between disrespect and civility. He’s more civil this year than I’ve seen him over the previous 3 years, but his moments of disrespect are pretty terrible. I’ve got an “in” with him, I know, but that interaction was rough.

3. Matt Hall says:

[4/14/2008 - 7:18 pm]

Triage baby! You are a finite human being with finite time, energy, and resources at your disposal. Good luck to the lad, and don’t waste another second worrying about/trying to teach him. Of course, my comment should not surprise you…