On considering hard truths.

I wake up every day intending to do my best. I care deeply about my students. All of them, every single one.

And yet, this student hasn’t turned in a single assignment the entire quarter. He knows the material, but consistently refuses to complete any assignments but tests. For classwork, no less than three times last week I brought him the pen and paper, but he just stared at me. I don’t pick fights; he has choice. He usually scores no lower than a B on tests, but he’s still failing. Is this my fault? Do I not care enough? What would you do?

And this one refuses to read Tears of a Tiger on his own. He tried for five minutes, after I asked nicely, but hasn’t picked it up since. If you push him, he gets angry. He gets kicked out of other classes a lot. I’d rather he not get kicked out of mine. Would you push? We have moments of connection, he and I, but only moments — would you ruin a chance for future moments, destroy a seed of connection, to force a student to do something he doesn’t want to for just one moment?

And another — an honors student, with so much potential, who hasn’t turned in a single assignment on time all year. That is not an exaggeration. Not one. And when they do come in, if they come in (and that’s a big IF), assignments are haphazard, sloppy. Do you keep on giving chances? He seems sincere this time, you think, and you want to believe him, so you give one more. Are you sending the wrong message? He’s a smart kid, polite kid — do you sign him up for honors again? He doesn’t have the study skills or the self-discipline for honors — or is that judging him on the wrong things?

One more: she comes in too many days in a row and says not one word. She puts her head down and refuses to lift it back up; her normal sunny smile is absent. Do you ask her to work, knowing what you know? Your trip with her to the guidance office is never far from your mind. After day six, her grade is suffering. You ask her to consider her grade, to come in tomorrow fresh, but all the time you’re wondering, why.

Please: recognize that these are rhetorical questions. I do not need your answers; I do not want your answers. There are no answers here, nor in the many other stories I could tell. Sometimes the only answer is to greet these kids — my kids — every day with a smile, an offer of endless opportunities, and a calm acceptance of their choices, good and bad, because to do otherwise is to strip them of their own sense of control and accomplishment.

[Because that is what education is all about, right?]