On Friday, my teaching partner and I decided we needed to sit down and talk with one of our students. JR got a 32% on his diagnostic and, since then, he has yet to pass a single daily assessment. So, we asked him to stay after class and talk with us about his “progress”.
I had to be completely honest with him. I told myself that concealing the truth about where he stood–that is, on the brink of failing–would have been worse than letting him believe that he was going to pass and receiving the shocking news after the final exam this week.
My partner and I talked with him for a good fifteen minutes, asking probing questions that would hopefully allow us to help him better prepare for the upcoming final. Over and over again, he would say he was going to work harder. When we asked him if he was going to review for the test, he said “probably”. At this point, I told him bluntly that “I don’t know if probably is good enough” and that he needed to prove to us that he was definitely going to work hard in the next few days.
What JR said next caught us both off guard: “I thought there was, umm, didn’t George Bush make that thing, uhh, No Schooling Left Behind or something like that?”
We gave a little “mmhmmm” while nodding, before JR continued: “Well, what?, they not doing that anymore?”
At this point, my partner and I fumbled to find a good response to his question. We explained that NCLB was about schools and not individual students. We didn’t really know what we were explaining but we came up with something–anything–to make it clear that even if JR was being left behind, NCLB could still be said to be rational and consistent.
JR didn’t buy it. He expressed his confusion: “well then why do they still call it “No Student Left Behind”?”
We told him we didn’t know.
Conversations like this one are going to be quite common. I found the whole talk ironic because JR clearly showed that he is capable of analyzing and evaluating a situation. He’s a smart boy. Yet, somewhere inside him there is a disconnect between his ability to think and his ability to express himself on paper. It’s sad and I honestly think more about him than I do any other student.
At this point, it would take a miracle and a half for JR to pass. I would feel terrible promoting him to the 10th grade given how far behind he is. Yet, I know that failing him again might break his heart. He’s had one of the best attendance records and, despite the fact that he daydreams a lot in class, he’s been an active participant in class.