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I have a teacher confession to make.
I failed him.
Not “gave him an F” failed him but failed him as a young man. A student with a future ahead of him, someone who could one day be a father, a councilman, or even president.
But I failed him.
It was my second year as a teacher. Based on the number of students that were going to the 5th grade, there was a slot available to me to teach my students from 4th grade again, with a few changes. The excitement I had continued to build over the summer. I knew my kids mentally and emotionally, as well as the skills they needed to succeed in the next grade.
I knew my students or at least I thought I did.
One young man by the name of James, a pseudonym, was one of the kids I had in 4th grade. He had an IEP, which means he received services to help with testing, as well as additional help throughout the day with the Special Education teacher. In 4th grade, I had few behavior problems with James. I had to call his mom once or twice to come in and speak with me about his grades and his behavior. It was nothing out of the ordinary...
...Until 5th Grade.
For one reason or another, James would not come to class. On the days he did come, he would walk out of my room without permission. I would call the office, let them know that he left my room, and patiently wait for him to come back.
I could sense that something was just not right. He wouldn’t talk to me about it. His friends didn’t know what was wrong. Even the special education teacher, who knew him better than I did, knew that something wasn’t right.
I made it my mission to sit down with others who knew him to discover what was wrong. I brought in an administrator that he was close to. He told us that a boy in the classroom was bullying him before school started, so we put a plan in place to prevent him from being bullied.
“Yes!” I thought. “We have a plan and James will want to stay in class from now on!” I felt like I accomplished something. I felt like I defeated the problem we had, and we were back to our great teacher-student relationship from grade 4.
The plan lasted three days.
So, I went to the next step. I called a meeting with his father, the vice principal, and James. James sat there, staring at the wall as we all told him how we wanted him to succeed. We told him about how great he could be and that we were all willing to work together to help him accomplish greatness. When the meeting was over, we came to an agreement that James would come to class, I would be there to help him, the vice principal would be there to support him, and his dad would be at home to support him.
As soon as his dad left the school, James went right back to what he was doing.
At this point, I didn’t know what else to do. The number of times I tried to talk to him exceeds 20. I tried rewarding him for small things, like sitting in his seat. Nothing was working. I was tired. I had tried all the tricks in the teacher handbook. Nothing was working.
My teacher confession is that I did what no teacher is supposed to do. I gave up on my student James.I gave up on my student James. Click To Tweet
When he left the room, I alerted administration, and then continued with my lessons. In between classes, I would see him running around the hallways, but instead of trying to talk with him about missing class, I walked right by him. When he asked to go to the bathroom, I let him go, knowing that I probably wouldn’t see him anymore that day. I stopped trying to give him his homework. The communication between his parents and I stopped.
I just stopped caring.
Every day, I would come home feeling awful. I could see his face in my head. I knew that he needed help, but I felt that there was nothing else I could do. I was tired of focusing so much on one student who didn’t care about school. I was done giving my energy to the one who didn’t want to learn.
But isn’t that what being a good teacher is all about? Leaving the 99 to get the 1?
The decision I made then dictates the decisions I make today when it comes to students with behavior issues. Early contact with parents is my first line of defense. I take the time and highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly inside the classroom and to students' parents. Taking the time to highlight the little actions students do helps them to feel like they belong in my classroom and want to be there, so I go out of my way to do that. When I speak with parents, I try my best to build a partnership early and let them know they’re important to their child’s success. Most importantly, I never stop caring. No matter what the student has done, I never stop caring for a student, good or bad. Right or wrong.
I know as a teacher, we shouldn’t take things personally. Our students are dealing with issues that extend way beyond our reach. But it’s hard to put so much into a career, and not be emotionally impacted by it, especially when you can remember the teachers that impacted your life, for better or for worse.
We know that our students will remember us, and whether we want to admit it or not, we want it to be for making a positive impact.
To this day, I still think of James. I wonder what his life is like and how he’s doing in school. I think about what I’d say to him if I saw him again.
"James, I would like to apologize for giving up on you and letting you fall through the cracks, but I tried. We met with your mom, dad, and the Vice Principal. We created a plan and implemented it. Why didn't it work for you? Is there anything else I could've done to help you? Please tell me because I don't want this to ever happen again."
Not. On. My. Watch.