Today is the day we gave our final exams. Today is also the day when things fell apart. Of the six students that have made it to the end of summer school, three of them walked into class this morning not looking even remotely prepared to take the test.
LA, who has been our hardest-working student, finally showed up after missing the last 3 days. As we had suspected, he had missed class because he had been deathly ill. TG, the student who improved 66% between her pre-test and mid-term, also showed up looking like death. She was never out of commission, but she had to deal with pinkeye on top of whatever sickness she had. Given how hard they’ve worked all summer, it was disappointing to see that they were not able to enter the test-day situation in top shape.
Finally–and this is the one that hurts the most–SB showed up sobbing uncontrollably. I could immediately predict what had happened: when my partner and I told the class about our holding a Burger King review session yesterday, SB told us that, although she really wanted to come, she had to see her grandfather in the hospital in the evening. It turned out that her grandfather had passed away this morning. We gave her the option of taking the test tomorrow, but SB showed her willpower and decided to take the exam.
These are just three of my students. But clearly they are (negatively) affected by factors beyond their control. This is not to say that students from other backgrounds don’t experience these same problems (of death in the family or illness). But these incidents occur with a higher frequency for them. Many of my students don’t have the resources or the support that would allow them to “neutralize” these bad factors. I suspect that LA and TG probably were not able to receive the same sort of health care that I would have received. As another example, I have one student who has always been squinting in class. When I finally talked to him about his vision, he told me that he could only see to the end of his extended arm. His only glasses were broken and he didn’t have the money to get new ones.
And I can also think of other examples of factors that severely affect how one will do in the classroom. One of my group’s teachers has a student whose father was killed. At one of the other schools at which TFA teaches, a student was actually killed (in an act of revenge) last week.
A big part of the TFA philosophy is that teachers matter and that effective teaching is the primary determinant of how students learn. For the most part, I agree with and believe in this philosophy. But I think that the above incidents show that there are a lot of factors out there that are, unfortunately, outside of our locus of control and that will directly affect student achievement in a negative way.
I grade the exams later today. Let’s see what happens…