What Purpose is Served?

May 8, 2008 at 6:56 pm 3 comments

Lost a student today, and it’s breaking my heart.

In January, my mentor teacher received an email notifying her that we would be having a new student in 3rd period – not a transfer, but a junior who had failed this class last year. Ordinarily, I guess, a student in this situation would be put in with a different teacher. However, DR is the only teacher of accelerated sophomore English at CHS, and the student – we’ll call him Theo – had to take the exact same class in order to undo the previous year’s failing grade.

DR wasn’t completely happy about the situation. Theo, she said, was one of those students who can completely derail a class: unquestionably brilliant, but too loud, too energetic, too passionate and argumentative. A spotlight hog. Moreover, despite (or because of) his brilliance, Theo had real issues with “playing the game” – specifically, getting stuff completed and submitted. He didn’t do it to fight the teacher – he just had more important things on his mind.

Nevertheless, into the class Theo came. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t him.  He is trim in a way that provokes the word “pixie” when applied to females, with a startling explosion of tight blond curls down to his shoulders. He wears tight jeans and brightly-colored hooded sweatshirts, several sizes too small – if you’re thinking of the male clothing aesthetic. Basically, it looks very much like his clothes came from the junior girls department. He has a bright face, a confident voice, and extremely nervous mannerisms. Immediately I found myself trying to analyze him. Despite his appearance he doesn’t come across as effete. His nervousness – twitchiness, really – made me wonder if there was a drug issue.

Theo has been extremely respectful of DR and me, and he fell easily into a role as quasi-mentor for the younger students. Because he had seen all of the material before, he has been able to assist in teaching it to students who struggled. When I began teaching poetry, however, I discovered what I had in Theo: a natural-born gift. Theo is not a particularly strong technical writer, but he has an extraordinary talent for words and rhythm. He is a poetic wunderkind with an especial talent for vocal performance. Lest I be unclear, Theo isn’t an amazingly talented poet among high schoolers – he’s an amazingly talented poet, PERIOD.

The semester wore on, however, and Theo’s grade sank lower and lower. He just could not bring himself to turn in assignments. The biggest part of it was that he was rarely in class. About two months ago the office noticed his chronic absenteeism and called him in (for what I learned was far from the first time) to tell him he had one more absence before receiving an attendance-related expulsion.

I was frustrated with Theo, as I am frustrated with any of my bright kids who screw up. After plugging in another series of zeroes for Theo in the grade book, I went to DR and asked what was going on. That’s when I got the rest of the story: Theo’s mom’s drug addiction, the beatings and abuse he and his siblings suffered, having to call the police on his own mother, his stepfather (who had been an ally) giving up on the mom and moving out, taking responsibility for his four little brothers and sisters, living on the streets and friends’ sofas when home got too bad to bear, his mom being imprisoned and then released, his mom sneaking into the apartment to “kidnap” the other children, and the weeks he and his stepfather had subsequently spent trying to track down the kids to rescue them from their own mother…

We have very few students on IEPs and none with 504s, but that day DR and I threw the class regulations out the window and made our own IEP for Theo. He began to come in for first period (our prep) to work on assignments. We took them, late or not. His progress was slow and his attention hard to hold, especially that early in the morning, but he was working.

I knew what my goal was. Theo didn’t “need” literary analysis. He needed to be in school so that he had a safe place to be. And then he needed to get out of school – the right way – so that he could move on and have a real life.

But today the VP came in and asked for a grade check on Theo, and although his grade has climbed 15 percentage points he still isn’t passing (yet). VP shook his head and drew his finger across his throat. “He’s done,” he said.

I don’t know what it is that Theo finally did that broke the camel’s back of school rules, but it looks as though he won’t be sitting in his seat tomorrow. And it just kills me. I am worried about him, disappointed I couldn’t do something else to help him, sad that the other students are going to lose the benefit of his insight. I am going to miss him. It isn’t like they kicked him out a month before graduation or anything, and I think he half knew that he was going to end up repeating 11th grade, but it still stinks. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what purpose is served by sending Theo home (wherever home may be at this point).

This is a kid who might not make it. If I could have seen him through to the end of the year… but this is going to haunt me.

Update: I think DR and I are going into the VP’s office tomorrow to lodge a complaint. Not sure if it will do the least good, but I think this is worth fighting for.


Entry filed under: BAD DAY, TALES FROM SCHOOL. Tags: , , .

From teh Intrawebz Observations

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. everydayjae  |  May 8, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I’m currently in school to get my Master of Arts in Teaching. I will be student teaching this fall, and official next year!

    Please do fight for this kid. So often teachers don’t step in when they see that there is a real need, one that will make a felt difference in a students life. There might not be anyone else to do it.

  • 2. Kit  |  May 9, 2008 at 10:23 am

    My heart goes out to Theo and his family. I hope you and DR will speak up for him. This child needs some adult, any adult, to give him a safety net, no matter how small.

    Kicking him out of school may be his final straw and who knows what may come of it. Staying in school and gaining momentum in that area is obiously a more positive approach. Keep us informed.

    Too often we read about this kind of situation, shake our heads, think how sad it is, and go about our day. Bless you for taking an interest in this young man. I hope to hear of a happy ending.

  • 3. schmutzie  |  May 12, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    You’ve been tagged:


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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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