Twenty-four of my students are failing. Only two are passing. They are failing in the grade book. They are failing in mastering content. They are failing in overcoming the abyss of apathy that is a characteristic of the students I teach. And, because of this, I am failing.
I have tried dozens of techniques and watched them bomb. And then tried new ones and watched them bomb again. I am frustrated and at a loss and exhausted.
For the last month I have fought hard not to admit this to myself, but it’s time I live by a credo to speak hard truths:
I want to give up on them.
I have heard it over and over again from dozens of teachers: Some kids can’t be reached. Such kids have a perfect storm of disadvantaged genetics, dismantled home-lives, and self-destructive mentalities. One teacher cannot reach them. Nor can one school, nor one community. Save your energy and dedicate it to the “good ones.”
Another truth: Lately, I have felt myself nodding in agreement when I hear teachers say these things, even uttering variations of the “Doomed Pupil Decree.”
But it’s ironic. Because my students are failing, I feel incompetent. Because I feel incompetent, I want to quit. And yet, quitting is exactly the habit I most want my students to break. It is a grey, dotted line separating irony from hypocrisy.
But I can’t shake it from my head that it’s wrong – that I’m wrong – to say “There’s no hope.” I choose to believe that there is always hope. Even if there is no hope, there is always need for hope. I can accept the reality that not every kid will be reached. But, I do not accept abandoning my effort in trying.
I can’t kick it out of my mind that every child needs a champion, every quitter needs a coach, every failure needs a fresh start. Even as my frustration hits its wall, as my energy runs on fumes, as the easy option to give up calls me to play – even then I cannot quit. Quitting is not my job. My job is to try to influence every mind that enters my room. Every day. Every student. Every second. And, when I am not trying to my fullest extent I know it – and it is only I who must answer to my own lack of integrity.
Even when Carlos walks in late for the 9th time, still no pencil, still no notebook, still with ear buds marking walls of detachment, I cannot give up.
Even when Brian is gone for the twelfth day in three weeks without the slightest rationale, I cannot give up.
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