Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Goodbye Jimmy.

When I was in the seventh grade I wanted to be a doctor. I was completely ignoring the fact that I hated math and science and still cried when my mom took me to the doctor for a shot. I think I'm very lucky that my parents and teachers allowed for a little freedom in my career path and didn't pin me down to a career of needles and tears.

I'm having a moral dilemma of sorts. Teach For America basically brainwashes you all the way through training to believe you can reach every kid. Every kid has a switch that can be flipped on or off based on the behavior of the teacher. In many ways I think this is strikingly true and I understand the need to convince as many people as possible of it. In my school there is a group of teachers who simply write kids off. They don't bother to call home, look at past test scores or even simply talk to the kid. In their line of thinking there is nothing wrong with the kid other than they just don't care and won't amount to much. It hurts to think that there are people who actually believe a child's entire world and outlook is set before they reach the seventh grade. My students, much like myself at that age, are not solid and complete human beings. They are still discovering who they are, deciding where they belong and what they want. In some ways, this time is the most vital for their future. This time in their education could make or break where their future goes. My roommates both teach high school and the differences between student responsibility are drastic. Do I think that you should be responsible for turning in a unit project that you've heard me talk about every day for the past four weeks? Yes. Do I think that you should be responsible for getting yourself to class and therefore if you skip I'm not going to call your mom? Absolutely not. Although my seventh grade stupidity didn't involve ditching class, I certainly had my moments and my students certainly have theirs. I owe them everything that my teachers gave me: guidance, support, lessons in positive choices and several phone calls home to mom and dad. Unfortunately, more often than not that is not a mentality I see in the classroom management of my co-workers.

This is why losing Jimmy is so much harder. I try everything with my students. I move them, I lecture them, I have heart to hearts, I have their parents come in, I call their grandmas, I send them to the counselor, I find them a buddy, in Isabel's case, I put them on weekly behavior contracts. I've tried everything with Jimmy and nothing has worked. Since the moment he has walked into my classroom the only thing he seems to want to do is disrupt the general environment. It's even more unfortunate that a month and a half ago he was assigned to my fourth hour (by far the most difficult class). Tomorrow he leaves my classroom for good. Part of me feels wonderful about this. The other part of me feels twice as bad.

With all of this, I'm left with the question of whether or not all children can be saved. Jimmy is just 13, but he is far beyond the life experiences of his peers. He was arrested in 5th grade for selling cocaine at his elementary school. He was removed from his home and placed with his grandmother after child and protective services decided he could no longer stay with his mother. He is actually quite smart and charming when he wants to be, but unfortunately something in his life has caused simply stop caring and stop bothering to even try. Is there a point where I am allowed to stop trying too? Do I get justification  in my relief at his departure by saying I don't just have Jimmy to help, but 68 other students as well? Jimmy not only made it difficult to help those who needed it, but he made it seem cool not to care, not to try and not to want to learn. This is fine for a child who tests at 7th grade level in the 4th grade, but not as cool for a child who is two to three grade levels behind and doesn't yet realize how hard this fact is going to make the rest of their lives.

I honestly don't know the answer to all these questions. The fact that I'm not dealing with kids who have misdirected medical school dreams, but students who don't understand the utter inability they will have to graduate college with their current knowledge base, is what hurts the most in this situation. Seventh graders should be allowed to fantasize about their futures, but graduating high school shouldn't be a fantasy for any child and selling drugs at 10-years-old shouldn't be a reality.

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