Tis’ the season of high school graduations. It is one of which I am acutely aware since my own daughter is graduating high school as well. It’s a bittersweet time of year. Not for the reasons you may think, although that is bittersweet in its own right.
It is bittersweet because I see the results of 12-13 years of schooling in every senior’s eyes. But whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the student’s efforts. I see three types of students during this time.
The first type is like my own daughter. She is graduating eighth in her class, the recipient of many academic awards and scholarships. She worked hard every year since kindergarten to be the best in her class. When she was in 4th grade she asked the teacher for a challenge and ended up doing about two hours of homework a night on her own, without external motivation from her parents. During that time, she said she was tired of elementary school and wanted to get to middle school. By 7th grade, she wanted to go to high school. By her sophomore year, she wanted to graduate and get to college. Not because she wanted to grow up I think, but because she wanted a challenge. As I saw her during her academic awards ceremony, I got the feeling that she saw this as a pit stop on her way to graduating from medical school. She is happy with the accolades, but her goal is not satisfied yet. She is like many students who work hard and end up with the fruits of their labors. These students don’t always end up in the top 10% or 25% of their class by the way.
The second type of student is the student who encountered challenges outside of school, perhaps at home or elsewhere. They encountered physical, emotional, or mental challenges that other students may not have encountered. Yet, these students overcame those challenges and graduated. For some, graduation is an achievement they did not think they would attain. I cherish these students almost more than the first group. I put myself in the second group of students and this type of student I see regularly at my alternative program. It is such an overwhelming joy to see students who have overcome problems they’ve created or problems outside their control and see them achieve success. The smiles and the tears are so completely heartfelt (not to minimize the first groups own challenges)
The third type of student is one that I see often at alternative school. Sadly. They have encountered challenges as well but have chosen to take a different path. They have allowed themselves to be defeated by their own problems or problems outside their control. They realize too late that they should have expended more effort in their work. They realize they cannot graduation and so they drop out. I am not without sympathy for this group. But that does not take away from the fact that they have severely damaged their chances of success.
I have thought about these three types of students over the last week as I saw some of my own students quit coming to school because they’ve given up. I have seen previous students as they’ve risen to their challenges, overcame them, and graduated. Naturally, I have seen my own daughter over the last 13 years so hard and I have seen that work recognized. When i was at her awards ceremony, I saw student after student cross the stage (juniors & seniors) being recognized for their accomplishments. I thought of my own students at the alternative program and how many of them have wasted their abilities in pursuit of immediate pleasure. It saddened me because so many of them have the ability, but lack the intrinsic motivation or the coping mechanisms and skills to overcome their own challenges to achieve success.
The other thing that saddened me was knowing of the students I have who are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors who are not thinking of their future past today or this week. They think they will graduate and something will just fall in their lap. This attitude frustrates me.
There is a dichotomy of graduating students and I saw it on the faces of regular high school students. Something you do not see in an alternative program. It was interesting in a way that I am finding hard to explain. My apologies for my insufficient vocabulary and writing ability.
*For the record, she will be attending the University of Tennessee, majoring in biology (microbiology focus) with a pre-med concentration.
Today a young man came to school.
No big deal…
That happens every day…
That’s where he should be…
…is not an average kid
…has behavior issues
…is average. If average is high-risk.
…you ask (shrugging your shoulders).
Today a young man came to school
and he inspired me.
He came in…
…completely out of dress code
…and after walking maybe 3 miles toward
Nashville and turning around
and coming to school.
Not home, to school.
Where he felt safe.
An alternative program
where he had been for about 3 weeks
I spoke to him as he came to my class.
Asking if he…
…was going to be able to work
…would be any trouble
His voice – it broke as he responded.
And my heart – it broke as I listened.
You could hear…
…in his voice.
He looked like a cornered animal.
He reacted like an abused dog to attention.
I told him…
…he made a good choice coming to school
(not the myriad other choices he could have made)
…some days we must focus on the small, minute-to-minute decisions
(not the big decisions)
…some days we rejoice at getting through it step-by-step
…that I enjoyed having him in class because he works hard
…I was proud of him for making the right decisions this day
…I had faith in him and knew he could keep it up
He came in and worked hard
At the end of the day he left…
…with a smile
…shaking hands with teachers
I hope he returns tomorrow. He said he’s moving to Nashville.
I never tell my students I’ll miss them…
…but I do.
Today a young man came to school…
…he didn’t have to, but he did
…and he inspired me
…and he taught me
Sometimes I think about my students’ perspectives regarding history and while this isn’t the first time I’ve considered this, I just wanted to share that observation.
The strange part of teaching history is the differences in perception between me and my students. For instance, I am currently working on lecture notes & a slideshow about the 1980s – a time I well remember since I graduated in 1984 and can certainly relate to, and my perception of it is as if it were yesterday in a sense. However, for my students this happened 30 years ago – in the distant past for them. To give myself some perspective that would be similar to when I was in high school in the early ’80s and a teacher talking about what life was like in the early ’50s, pretty much right after WW2.
And then I think of all the changes between the ’50s and the ’80s and then consider all the changes between the ’80s and the ’10s.