The last weeks of school are all about letting go. We let go of the students, who are moving onto the next grade, along with letting go of our met and unmet expectations.
The most difficult part of becoming a teacher for me was the realization that I cannot save every child that walks into my classroom. Like many newbie teachers, I was sure I would be the one who could reach every struggling student, turn them around, and make them want to learn, want to please me, and want to be successful, in not only my classes but in life in general. I was naïve about the power of outside influences and the potential of forces beyond my reach to change the performances of students in my classroom.
I rode into school with my super hero cape, smile on my face, toolbox full of research, and college classroom pedagogy tricks, enthusiasm bubbling over, ready to tackle them all. Tackle, no…. I was going to save them all.
Then, reality set in. I saw them walk in the door, downtrodden from years of failure and despair, already having given up on themselves. These were the easy ones, as time would tell. These just needed their confidence restored, a chance at success, and some shoring up of skills and independence. I was able to see the spark return in many of these students, the assurance that yes, they can do it, that someone believes in them, and wants them to be successful.
It was the others I had to learn to let go of. The one young lady I have this year has missed 44 days of school so far. That is one fourth of the entire school year. Try as I will, I cannot teach her 180 days worth of curriculum in less than 140 days. I can try to help her grow along a continuum, moving slowly forward, but I can’t make up all those lost days. I can encourage her to come to school, make her feel welcome when she is here, and make the most of the days she does attend. Reality is though, she will move onto the next grade, going into that class unprepared. I have to let go of my expectations that she will be successful this year. It is out of my control.
I had to let go of my expectations for the girl who came here to live with her grandfather, because her mother, the drug addict, didn’t want her anymore. Up until this point in her life, she had basically raised herself. Despite his efforts, grandfather couldn’t get her to come to school on a regular basis. He couldn’t keep her from roaming the streets, hanging out with the rough older crowd of kids she was drawn to. She was sent to juvenile lockup so many times, eventually, she was sent away. I had to let her go, knowing I hadn’t made the impact in her life I wanted to, that she needed me to make.
Others I have had to let go of because their parents have instilled in them a sense of entitlement that the rules do not apply to them, that they hold no personal responsibility for their own learning, and that any failure is due to my lacking, and none of their own. I’ve had to let go of both the students and the parents on many occasions when even at 7th grade, the parent thinks their child should be able to walk in and out of the classroom at will, shouldn’t be held accountable for their supplies, work or behaviors. They consistently blame other students, the teachers, the school system and society in general for the shortcomings of their child.
Letting go of those children was never easy, and was always a hard fought battle on my end. I’ve taken late night tear filled collect phone calls, listening to the “I think I’m pregnant” stories. I’ve made repeated parent phone calls trying to impress upon them to importance of having their child in school. I’ve explained rules and procedures, outlining how to help their child experience success and independence, offering parenting readings to support my stance. I’ve gone to ball games and track meets, talked about dogs and vacations, tried to make those personal level connections that are so important to reaching troubled kids and drawing them into the circle of success. And sometimes, it works, and sometimes, it is like that balloon you see flying high in the sky, escaping, out of reach.