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Leave This Chid Behind

My colleague was faced with an unruly student in summer school last week. The student was in summer school because she had failed a semester of English, 20 weeks of instruction, and was now being given the opportunity to make up this work in three weeks of instruction. So, of course, there are strict rules for being given this second chance.

Students cannot be absent for more than four hours. Students will be assigned the equivalent of a week’s homework each night. Students will not present any discipline problems, since attending summer school is a privilege.

The student, Stephanie, first became a problem when she was putting on make up during class time. When asked to put away the make up by my colleague, the teacher, she responded by telling the teacher to “chill.”

My colleague chose to ignore the disrespect, resolving to fight bigger battles. Like the dropout statistics.

On the average, dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates and to earn less money when they eventually secure work.

– U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 1999

High school dropouts are more likely to receive public assistance than high school graduates who do not go on to college.

– U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 1998

Two-thirds of inmates in the Texas prison system are high school dropouts.

– Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 1998

As teachers we are fed these statistics, as if we will be to blame if a student does not pass our class, does not graduate from high school and ends up working at a menial job which requires her to depend on public assistance, or turns to crime to make her living, or worse yet, ends up in prison which will cost taxpayers more than it costs to send a child to school.

My colleague “chilled”, waiting patiently for Stephanie to finish applying her third coat of mascara for lashes that won’t quit. Then she continued with her lesson on The Lord of the Flies.

The next day in class, Stephanie chose to go to the restroom during class time, without permission by getting up from her seat in the middle of instruction and leaving. Of course, at first my colleague was relieved, thinking Stephanie had chosen to quit the class of her own accord, and proceeded discussing how the conch was used to assemble the population for a democratic vote. Stephanie returned. When questioned, she once again told my colleague to chill and explained she had an emergency.

Well, this was too much. My colleague stopped instruction, asked Stephanie to walk up to the office, observed patiently while Stephanie collected her things and left the class, called the office to let them know Stephanie was on her way and why, then filled out a discipline referral explaining in detail the infraction.

At break, when my colleague went to the office to check on Stephanie, she was told that Stephanie had no support at home, was very troubled, needed to pass the class, the time in the office would not be deducted from her attendance hours and she would be returning to class after break. Poor Stephanie.

My colleague was being paid thirty-four dollars an hour to teach 37 students, not exactly great pay, but when she considered the cost of failing Stephanie, she nodded quietly and headed back to her classroom.

In Texas, between 1985-86 and 2002-03 school years, the estimated cumulative costs of public school dropouts in the state were in excess of $500 billion in foregone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs (Johnson, 2003).

Finally, the next day, Stephanie decided to take an extra long break, like twenty minutes longer. Upon returning to class, in the middle of instructional time, when she was informed that the time would be deducted from her attendance hours, Stephanie tried to explain. She had an emergency. My colleague, not wanting to waste instructional time discussing poor Stephanie’s emergency, asked her to stay after class. Stephanie lost it, told the teacher, my colleague, to fuck off and stormed out of the classroom. My colleague called the office to let them know Stephanie was “AWOL’ and was not to come back to class, ever. After all, my colleague usually likes her job, but too much stress could create a problem.

Stress impacts greatly on teacher retention.(Jarvis, 2002).

When she went to the office to find out the particulars of what happened to Stephanie, she was told that Stephanie would now be an office aid so she could earn some elective credits, another class she failed during the regular school term, and if she behaved, the principal promised to take her out to lunch.

Keeping kids in school, but at what price?

The overwhelming media message is that our schools are broken. Charlie Rose has guests on showing how to fix our schools, with charter schools which require parental involvement and a strict code of conduct to participate. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, tells Bill Maher on his HBO show that our kids are on par internationally in the fourth grade, but fall behind as they progress through school, getting dumber through middle and high school. Every day there is a newspaper article about our failing schools, our too powerful union, our teachers accused of molestation and then there’s Stephanie.

The argument is that we must keep our children in school or they will become criminals, our economy will suffer because there is not a viable work force, our union will be jeopardized because we can’t compete with other nations. Then there’s Stephanie.

How does keeping Stephanie in the office with promises of lunch out with the principal if she can behave prevent her from going on welfare, doing drugs, becoming a criminal, making the public school system impotent?

Teachers and the school system were never meant to socialize children. We do not see them enough during the day to teach them moral values. Even if we tried, the impact of the family is too great for us to overcome, and Bill O’Reilly will be screaming at us for shoving our liberal views down the future of the nation.

Keeping children in school, in the face of disrespect, absenteeism, and lack of motivation does no one any good, especially not the students.

When we allow students to tell a teacher to “fuck off” then reward her by giving her some free credits if she will just come to school and sit in the office, we teach students that the world will bend to their moods. It will not.

When we allow students to fail a course which requires twenty weeks of studying and work and then allow them to make it up in three weeks, we teach students there is always an easy way out, and there isn’t.

When a student fails to complete the work to the best of his or her ability and we pass the child so our dropout statistics and the child’s self-esteem aren’t damaged, we teach a child that he or she must not work to his or her capability to earn anything in this world.

Obviously, Stephanie is an extreme example. I wish she were the most extreme example. But Stephanie allows an atmosphere of impotence and disrespect to become prevalent in our classrooms. No Child Left Behind? I say we leave Stephanie behind, until she is ready to join us.

Submitted by:

Diane Mierzwik

Diane Mierzwik is the author of "Quick and Easy Ways to Connect with Students and Their Parents," "Classroom Record Keeping Made simple," and "Wishes in the Field." She currently teaches middle school in California. She can be reached at www.dianmierzwik.com.





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