It seems so easy for some to put the total blame for a student's failure squarely on the shoulders of the student. And, sometimes, that's exactly where the blame should be.
But most times, there is plenty of blame to go around.
And sometimes, we need to start with the teacher.
Back when I was in seventh grade (and I rode a dinosaur to school), I was required to take Home Economics--one semester of sewing, one semester of cooking (only girls, no boys). I can remember being so excited to take these classes. Especially sewing. No one in my family sewed and I thought it would be cool to learn. Oh, I could thread a needle, I made lots of embroidered dish towels. But this class would get us at a sewing machine. We were going to sew our own clothes!
I soon hated going to class.
You see, the teacher stood in front of the class, told us what to do and then stepped back. If she helped anyone, it was the girls who already knew a little of what they were doing. Girls who had people who sewed at home. I don't remember her ever coming over to really help me. I don't remember anything about that class except wanting to cry the whole time I worked on the jumper I had picked out to work on.
It never got finished.
I carried it in my arms during the "fashion show" that was held to show off our work.
I do remember her telling me at the end of the semester that she was giving me a D- so I didn't have to take the class again (or so she wouldn't have to have me back in class again. At least that's what her words felt like).
I never tried to sew again (I aced Cooking, though).
This experience colors everything I do in my teaching. I try to never make a student feel like I did as a seventh grader (although I know I probably have). I start questioning myself every time I send out midterms, every time a student gets lower than a C-. What am I doing wrong? What could I be doing to help this student? Sometimes I don't have an answer. Sometimes I sit down and look the kid in the eye and say, "What can I do to help you? Is there something I should be doing differently?"
And sometimes, I have to ask, "What's going on with you? What's happening in your life? What is keeping you from doing your best?"
As often as I joke about students thinking I live in my room, I have to remember that students don't live at school either. That sometimes, their lives outside of school are traumatic. Scary. Complicated.
I have to give the kid a break who left his computer at his dad's several hours away
the kid who misses morning practice because he brings siblings to school
the kid who needs to bring breakfast to my room because his/her last meal was yesterday's lunch
the kid whose dad left last night.
Yes. Sometimes students are lazy and unmotivated. Sometimes they screw around in my class. Sometimes they are playing games on their computers or checking Facebook and Twitter or listening to music and watching YouTube videos.
Students will waste time once in awhile. I do too-- when I'm bored.
But it doesn't mean we should write them off.
It means we might need to look at ourselves. We might need to dust off lesson plans that have seen their better days.
We might need to really put students first and teach what they need, not what and how we were taught.
End of Rant.