This I Believe
It is 9:30 in the evening as I sit at my paper-gorged desk having a com- to-Jesus-meeting with myself. It is so quiet in my room that I can hear the air conditioner fan running. The only people left this late at night at my high school are the custodians, and pretty soon they would kick me out so they, too, can go home. I have made my 23 parent phone calls of the most critical students. These parents’ children are failing my class, and we have only been in school for four weeks. I met with the students last Saturday at the local library for help with their papers which were due earlier this week. This Saturday, I am informing the parents that I will be there again to pick up the others who, for whatever reason, didn’t turn in a paper and might need help.
I was unable to get in touch with four parents because either the line was busy or disconnected. Three families only spoke Spanish; one mother told me that she was tired and this was just the way her son was. One mom said that I should call another number because she was no longer “in charge” of her daughter since she had gotten married. I should talk to the girl’s husband. Another parent told me that his son couldn’t come on Saturday because he had a full time job he couldn’t miss. I have special population students, parent students, students who have just been released from jail or rehab. I have students who are so depressed that they cut themselves and those who smoke pot with their own parents.
I am somewhat discouraged, but honestly, these numbers aren’t bad. I have had years where at some point or another almost half of my students were failing. Yikes! What can one person do? I look at the computer screen at each line that has a failing grade. What haven’t I tried? What am I missing? Will the Saturday detention, what I prefer to call Saturday torture, help? I don’t know, but I am going to give it what my mother used to call “a Jake’s try.”
As a secondary teacher of more than 33years, I have learned that I have to try every single thing : home visits for Julio, buying Rachel a shot glass at a garage sale to add to her collection, reading Kyle’s favorite book about King Kong even though the big lizard/dragon is creepy, having a classroom library of over a thousand books so Marcel can take some home and never bring them back. I will sing to them, read The Teacher from the Black Lagoon aloud with icky voices, and meet them at their work to find out why they still haven’t done their influence essay.
So why did I sit there on a Thursday night knowing that very little of what I had done all day and late into the evening will have the slightest impact? Well, because I don’t know what else to do. Giving up is not an option. Getting nasty only makes it worse. Keeping on keeping on seems the only way to salvage myself from the depression I see some of my peers sliding into and which I could so easily grab and hide in its gentle folds. To give up would seem cowardly. It would be criminal and unseemly. I would feel as if I had stolen my paycheck. I stay in the fight because these kids, my students, are worth whatever it costs me to continue in the ring and duke it out with the unseen enemy: apathy, inability, laziness, boredom. I know I will never conquer the machine called failure by some, but, rather, in my own small way, I will let each student know that I care. This I truly, deeply believe. I have to.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.