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What’s his problem?

Because blogging is cheaper than therapy…I just need to clear my head of something…

He doesn’t do his homework.

She just sits and does nothing.

He doesn’t ask any questions.

She doesn’t pay attention.

He was offered extra help and did not come back.

She was given a study sheet didn’t use it.

He just doesn’t care.

She should just get an F and learn her lesson.

What’s his problem?

What’s her problem?

I have sat through hundreds of meetings as a middle school teacher in which the above lines have been spoken.  We spend countless hours trying to get kids to conform to what we want them to do.  If kids do not do what we want them to do, then they have a problem.

“Schools that are set up to be boring do damage to kids.”

I wish just once at a meeting the tables were turned and the kid took over, looked at the teacher and administration, and asked, “What’s your problem?”

I have never met a kid who walked into school hoping the day will suck and hoping they will fail.  I have never met a kid that hoped to live a mediocre life.   I have never met a kid that when given an opportunity to do something exciting doesn;t want to do it.  I have met kids who after spending years protecting themselves in a system that targets them as the problem might not jump immediately at the chance to do something exciting.  The protective wall the psyche takes years to build does not crumble in a day, and sometimes it takes years to undo what school has done to kids.

It is getting more frustrating as we now are two years into our “common core” aligned curriculum that is centered around collecting data so that we can identify which kids have problems.  Gone are the days when I could sit with a kid and say, “What I am doing is not working for you. Let’s figure something out that will.” I find myself more and more trying to figure out ways to get kids to do certain things a certain way that I know will be weighed on some assessment.  It’s now less about getting kids to do incredible that they previously thought was impossible, and more about getting them to do what someone way outside my classroom thinks is possible that can easily be scored a 1, 2 , 3, or a 4 on a rubric.

I have my end-of-the-year evaluation in about a month.  If my kids do not get those 4s, then someone across the table will look at the data and ask me a single question…

“What’s your problem?”

My fear is that someday after I retire I will meet a student and they will ask me, “What was your problem?”  And I will utter that line that so many before have tried to use to feel better about what they have done.  “I was just following orders…I had to cover the curriculum at all expenses regardless of the collateral damage.”

I think after recently finding out that I can retire in five years, I am having a bit of an identity crisis.  A couple years ago I could have retired knowing that I make a difference.

Now, I am not so sure what my legacy will be…

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5 comments

  1. Is there ever a point you’ve asked a student, “What’s your problem?” This semester alone, I feel like I’ve made every accommodation for a particular student without an reciprocation. I’ve made amendments. I’ve changed things. And still he refuses to do what is asked of him and participate. In those instances, how can we continue to blame ourselves?

    I’m all for changing things and helping kids learn and finding a way through the wilderness, but at what point do we say, “Hey…I’m at a loss here. There has to be some responsibility on the other end for this to work?”

    1. O’ boy….read this http://goo.gl/8WhFFe

      And the book mentioned in this post: http://goo.gl/CeQTkt changed how I would have normally answered your question.

      This year I have some of the apathetic kids ever. I really use that as a descriptor, and in no way an insult. I really have never seen so many kids who will do absolutely nothing despite ANYTHING that I do or try or say. This year I really have started to see and believe that they got this way after 13 years of living and acquiring baggage along the way. I have accepted that I will not work miracles. I have accepted that I might not “change” them, but maybe, just maybe put a dent in their psyche. This past fall I received a letter from a student who graduated years ago. She simply said her life is all together now, so thank you for not giving up on her.

      The reality is if we just let the responsibility fall on their shoulders and let them fall and make them take responsibility for their actions, there would be no troubled kids. It’s kind of like detention. If detentions actually worked then there would be no detentions after a few years of school right?

      I think we need to watch our language. See how you used the word “refuse.” I have a kid who doesn’t complete anything. There is just some mental baggage I have yet to unpack. He just simply can’t and I don’t know why.

      If I can be a bit bold and give you a push…
      What’s that one thing you really want to change about yourself? What is that one thing you want to start….or stop doing? Just start tomorrow no excuses ok? 🙂

      If we as adults cannot change a habit of ours overnight, and we are pretty much in control of our lives, just imagine how hard it is for a kid who has no control over theirs to make a change.

      I am not a fan of answering this type of question in writing without knowing the teacher or student..so hard..so many variables…but just one last thing…please take nothing personally, and remember nothing from the day before. Each day is day one in cases like this.

      And when all else fails, in your next unit, have kids in pairs, and make him yours.

  2. My student is 19 and in his 5th year of high school. He didn’t graduate again. And after your comment, I feel like a bit of a failure.

    I certainly didn’t expect a habit change overnight. But I’m also not sure there was a lot else I could do in this situation. When I did attempt to make the student “mine” via group work, he picked up his belongings and planted himself in the office where he refused (there’s that word again) to talk to me. I’m not sure what other word there is given that I attempted to engage him and he wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence.

    If I could change skmethjng, I would build a relationship with these students earlier. Having them for one semester with a student teacher doesn’t make for a lot of interaction time, and yet, I’ve spent more time with this student than anyone else in my class.

    I’m not one to give up. I read your blog post and I definitely don’t want to be a quitter when it comes to my classroom, but at what point is this person going to understand that I can love and push and pull, but his choices are just that?

    1. Ouch…so sorry.

      When I was writing that comment, I was in some way writing to myself, with a certain kid in mind. At 19 you are in a whole different world than me.

      In my comment was the message that we are not failures when we cannot work miracles. No matter how you look at what we do, or even not do, we can’t consider ourselves failures just because a kid does not react the way we hope.

      Sometimes the best we can do is simply say (and these were my actually words to my kid) “I have tried everything I can think of. I still trust you. I am still going to ask you how it’s going every day. I have no magic powers to make you do anything. When you decide to start, I will be here to help you.”

      Again, we can’t consider ourselves failures when we get a kid with years and years of baggage and can’t get them to change. We can’t work miracles with a prescribed curriculum and in a class with 26+ other kids.

      And the reality is, he may never understand what you want him too.

      And it is not your fault, and it never will be.

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