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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Three middle schools in eighth grade...

is too many for any kid. For Kevin, it was normal.

I didn't have Kevin first semester. He was moved into my class second semester. He made a great first impression. He was attentive, on task, on time, pleasant.

Unfortunately, his first semester records told a totally different story. Kevin was known for chronic truancy, chronic tardiness, and refusal to attempt any academic task. One teacher who had him wished him "good riddance" and several told me to watch out for him because "he lies about everything."

I caught him lying once or twice, called him out on it and he stopped doing it. No blame, just, "Dude, tell the truth. You just lied to me and I don't appreciate it. It makes me feel disrespected." He doesn't lie to me anymore--at least not in a way where he gets caught.

But I digress...

The first time he started to misbehave in class, I quietly informed him that he had made a terrific first impression and I didn't want him to interfere with my high opinion of him. It worked. He stopped.

Even though he showed up every day for my class, he wasn't demonstrating the same level of improvement across the board. I worried about him.

One day, I ran into Kevin in the hall outside the 9th grade office. The office was closed and he was waiting for his principal to return.

I had a few minutes so I stopped and asked him what was going on. He told me the principal had asked him to come to the office to discuss some infraction or another.

As we talked, I moved the conversation away from this particular moment and tried to get him to open up about his life in general.

I asked him what he wanted to do after high school. He said "I want to go to college, but I know my grades don't look like it."

"Ok," I said, "Let's talk about why not. It isn't about ability. You read and write well. You can do the work."

"I know," he said "I should, but I just don't somehow." He went to explain that he was taking Spanish 1 this year and he should be in Spanish 2. He sounded surprisingly upset about it. I asked him why he was in Spanish 1.

This was his answer: "The first two middle schools I was in last year I was in Spanish. Then we moved again and  they didn't get me in it, so this year they're making me take Spanish 1 again and I woulda done good in Spanish 2 'cause I got good grades like a C or better in Spanish 1."

Wait, did he just say the first two middle schools in eighth grade?!? The first TWO!  He went to THREE middle schools in one year.

I didn't say anything for a second. "And I never know when my mom is gonna move us again."  He sighed, "It sucks."

Talk about a window into a kid's psyche.

I nodded sympathetically and then we talked about what he could do differently right now. He wants to be in harder classes. He admitted he skips a lot because he is bored. (He also probably skips a lot because why put down roots and invest in your school and yourself if you might move again tomorrow, right? But I digress.)

I told him the truth: "Not all your teachers, but some of us, if you really worked hard and showed us that you have not just the smarts, but the attitude, the work ethic, and the desire, if you told us you wanted to move to advanced classes next year, some of us might make that happen for you."

"Not all my teachers, though," he said.

So I said "Do you really want 7 advanced classes with lots of homework every night?'

He smiled. "NO!"

"Ok, so maybe it is ok that not all your teachers would move you to an advanced class, right?"

I got a grudging nod. I suspect he had a particular teacher in mind. So I went on "And what if you proved the teacher you think thinks you can't do it wrong?"

He smiled again.

The principal showed up and Kevin went on to receive In School Suspension for walking out of detention, or as he put it "For something petty."

He told he'd rather be suspended and he wasn't going to sit in a room all day just because he needed to use the bathroom.

My response was the same I have given numerous times: "Of all the ugly, painful, sad things you will endure or have endured in your life, seven hours in a quiet room isn't one of them. Suck it up. It isn't that big a deal."

He continued to mutter about petty teachers. I stopped him and said "Look, you might be right, but you can choose to pout all day, or get in more trouble, or you can choose to use this day as an opportunity to get caught up in all your classes."

He scoffed, "But its a punishment."

"Is it?" I asked. "Who decides how you use that time? Who has control over how you respond to the hand you're dealt."

Grudgingly, "I do."

"Right. So decide. You don't have to decide right now, but the choice is yours and yours alone."

We went our separate ways.

Kevin went to ISS the next day. He didn't skip or pout or try to get in more trouble. He didn't miraculously work on assignments all day either, but, you know, baby steps :).

There are a couple of good things in this tragic story.

One, Kevin trusted me enough to tell me about his life (that makes me feel about 10 feet tall, by the way).

Two, I get to help other teachers and his principal understand a little more about his motivations and stress (no one knew his story until now).

Three, Kevin hasn't moved in almost a year. He is finally started to invest in himself and his grades. I think he is starting to trust us.

So despite the heartbreak I feel when I think about the uncertainty and anxiety he and kids like him who move frequently and suddenly must feel, I think this was a good thing. I hope we can help Kevin make it a great thing.

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