“Some of my former students came back to see me this year,” she said. “They graduated a couple of years ago. When they were here, they really struggled, but they wanted to do well, and they listened to me when I told them I could help them. I helped them read. I helped them write. I gave them strategies that got them through the tests. When they complained, I promised it would be worth it. ‘Don’t you want something better?’ I said to them. ‘Don’t you want choices in life?’ And of course they did, and they worked to prove it. It was a miracle that they didn’t drop out.”
She didn’t seem to feel victorious about this though, or even particularly happy.
“When they walked across the stage to get their diplomas, I knew they would go to college, and they did. For a year. I knew they wouldn’t make it there, and now they are back home again. They have no idea who they are….what they are good at….who they are meant to be. I see these kids on the street now. I see them hanging out in town, doing nothing that really inspires them.”
I nodded. Some of us really do get it. By “us” I mean staff-developer types. Even ones who appreciate data. And rubrics. And standards.
“I helped those kids get a diploma, but you know what? I failed them anyway, and that just haunts me. I can’t help it. Our drop-out rate is a problem, but it isn’t our only problem. If we’re going to do this right, we have to do something completely different from what we’ve done before. I will continue to help them read. I will help them write. They’ll pass the tests, and they will graduate. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad to be able to use information about performance in better ways now. You know I can’t wait for us to work to our full potential there, but it isn’t enough.”
We need to define what dropping out really means.
We need to admit that it’s happening after graduation too, and the consequences are just as dire.
All that stuff I’ve been saying this week about helping students understand who they are, what they love, and all that really matters to them? I know it’s about so much more than defining writing territories. Each of the students we work with, regardless of how they might perform within our classrooms or on the tests that we give them, has something significant to contribute to our classrooms…our schools…our communities….our world. It’s important to ask every student we teach the questions that will help them figure out exactly what this might be.
So, how can we begin connecting kids to the places and the people that might really benefit from their contributions?
And if we did this, would it keep them coming back to school during those moments when academic struggle might tempt them to opt-out? If we did this, would it help them engage in life beyond school the same way?
I honestly don’t know, but I’m grateful to be working with a group of teachers who are really eager to find out.