I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.
There are times when you really feel like crying as a teacher.
Today, we had a meeting of our teaching team called the "Professional Learning Community" (PLC). The focus was on two students who were failing in our classes. We brought each one in separately to ther room where our PLC meets to talk with him, and his parent if possible, about how we could help him turn things around.
The first young man was a senior whose efforts and grades had taken a nose dive in the second semester. I'll call him Dejuan. Dejuan came in to the room where we were meeting, and we talked with him about our concerns. We got his mother on a speaker phone, and she told him in no uncertain terms that he had better change. He promised he would, and I prepared a list of make up work for him to do, which I told him and his mother would be available for him in my class later that day. He did not show up for my class to get his make up work.
However, he was not the saddest case we had.
The second young man, like Dejuan an African-American male, is a middle-school student, a 17 year old middle-school student. "Charles" does nothing in his classes. Charles puts his head down on his desk whenever he managse to come to class. The rest of the time, he wanders the halls of the school until an administrator or our campus police officer catches him and puts him in "In School Suspension" for the day. Charles was in the library when one of our team members went to get him. Charles delayed coming to see the team as long as he could. When he finally got there, he simply sat in his chair saying nothing. We tried to get him to respond, but he met our entries with a stony silence. The teachers who have Charles in their class (I do not) asked him what they could do to help him. Charles looked down and did not say a word. Finally, one of our counselors offered talk with him privately and took him to her office.
When Charles and the counselor left, one of his teachers said that the behavior he had shown us was exactly what he does in her class. Charles is a special education student. The special ed teacher who has Charles as a part of his case load told us that he feels Charles needs some kind of alternative placement, but that his mother refuses to allow it perfering to see her son stay at our school where he will remain for a few years till he is too old to be our concern.
The teacher who has Charles in her class told of another time she tried an intervention with him. She said that during her talk with him, he only said one word. That happened when she asked him the question, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
"Dead," said Charles. And that was all