Teaching

A Tale of Two Students

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For the most part I’ve kept my personal life out of this blog. For those of you who don’t know my day job is high school biology teacher. Over the course of this school year there are two students who have really stood out to me. I could try to justify the rest of this post by saying too often the upcoming generation gets stereotyped as lazy tech zombies by any number of outlets and I’m trying to make a broader societal statement, but really these are two people whose stories deserve to be told. This is the outlet I have, so this is the outlet I’m going to use. The first Democrat debates are this week, so I’ll be back to current events and politics soon.

Student ‘A’ showed up to class around a week and a half late. A little unusual, but the first couple weeks people change their schedules around a fair amount, so I didn’t think too much of it. I pulled them aside to catch them up on the little bit they had missed. The student paid attention and seemed to fit in well with the group I put them with. The next time I have them in class the student was visibly distressed. I asked if everything was ok and they asked if it’s normal to be able to feel your heart pounding really hard. I told them to go get a drink, take some deep breaths, and hang out in the hallway where it’s quiet until they’re feeling better.

They came back into the classroom five minutes later, told me they’re feeling much better, and thank me. I told them it was fine and that if they’re feeling that way again they should always feel free to just step out, that they don’t need to ask me. At this point the student opened up to me about how they’re sorry they came to class late, but they got transferred from a school in North Carolina, they’re not certain which family member they’re going to be living with, they don’t know if they’re getting transferred back to North Carolina, that it all depends on a custody case, and he wanted to know if his sister was going to be ok.

I didn’t know what to say. The student just got done having a panic attack, doesn’t know what state he’s going to be living in next week, has no stability in his education, and his primary concern is for his sister. Over the next month he missed a fair amount of school owing to illness and often when he was in class he would ask me about the legalities of changing schools. I answered as best I could, but tried to direct him to the school’s counselors.

This next week there is a typed up lab report due. This student asked if he could get a pass to come in last Friday to type it up on a school computer. I told him that was no problem and wrote him the pass. He showed up, worked on the project for the entirety of the lunch period, and at the end told me his Mom was coming in to unenroll him from the school on Monday. To be clear, this student skipped their lunch on a Friday before a three day weekend to work on a project for a class he wasn’t even going to be in when it was actually due. I told him to not worry about the project and just worry about taking care of himself. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I wished him the best of luck.

Student ‘B’ was there the first day of class and couldn’t be missed. They were blessed/cursed with a radio announcer voice that can be clearly heard from the other end of the room, and they weren’t afraid to use it. I originally pegged them as a possible behavior issue in class, but after reading the first thing they turned in I realized I needed to talk to them. This was not an honors class, but the paper they turned in had better formatting, grammar, and spelling then many of my honors students. This student was clearly intelligent and I wanted to know more.

Before I could ask them, we received an email about the student saying they were going to be put in a foster home and to expect some late work and absences from them. I pulled them aside the next time I had them in class to compliment them on how well written the paper they turned in was. They glowed at the compliment. I asked if they were in honors english and they told me they were offered it, but turned it down because they knew they were going to have this family upheaval and didn’t want to have too much work from school. This is a fifteen year old who was mature enough to look ahead at the amount of stress they knew they were going to have and took steps to manage their workload so it didn’t crush them.

Also being a child of divorce, I told them I absolutely understood the extra stress that can put on you and that if they needed a place to vent they could come talk to me. They told me that it’s why they like writing so much, that it’s an outlet for them when they get depressed and they think that’s why they talk during class as well.

In one case we have student who has an incredible work ethic, but when they’re being bounced back and forth between schools needs to work that hard just to barely tread water. On top of all of that his concern isn’t himself, it’s his sister. In the other case we have a student who shows real promise in writing, but recognizes that the rigors of an honors course isn’t something she’s going to be able to handle right now on top of going into the foster system.

To close on a happy-ish note. The college I’m going to has a mentor program for high school students and I’m trying to get student B a place in that program so they might have a chance to take some college level English courses to help their writing even more. Since I talked to them about getting into this program their behavior has noticeably improved in class along with their grades. I can only hope the story for Student A also takes an up turn wherever it is they go to school next.

It’s always easy to bash the next generation. From someone who interacts with them daily, there are countless more stories like the two I listed above. The thought I want to close with is that the obvious struggles the next generation is having is largely owing to the circumstances they’re being raised in. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be a teacher, but one thing I’ll remember forever is that if the next generation is reacting poorly to bad conditions, it isn’t that generation that created or chose those conditions. They’re only playing the hand they’ve been dealt and a lot of them are playing it at a level far beyond their years.

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