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A F and No!

September 25, 2011
New Orleans Education

From a student of mine in response to our Do Now: What grade do you think you'll get on your Benchmark Exam? Are you prepared?

This week I gave my first set of Benchmark exams. We’ve completed 8 weeks of school, and it’s time to assess whether my students have actually learned anything. These types of tests are as scary for the teachers as for the students. If they fail, so do we.

As our “Do Now” for the day of the test, I asked my students to write in their journals what grade they think they will earn on the test, and whether or not they feel prepared for the exam. One of my star pupils who typically refuses to work on task, wrote this little gem: “A F and no!” This indeed tells me that she is not prepared. She must’ve missed the lesson on a vs. an, as well as working on complete sentences. She did get the capital letter and punctuation, but we’re still missing the subject and verb. Important components, those subjects and verbs.

Same day, a little earlier, my favorite student came in my class at lunch to hang out. He comes in every day to eat lunch with me, work on the computer, draw, talk, show me his journal writing and get help with sentences and word choice. The kid is amazing. He was in 5th grade last year. He is 15 years old. He’ll pass this year, and be able to jump ahead to high school next year, thanks to the way our charter school is set up. He will have a chance to get his life back on track. So many kids aren’t given a second chance like this. Kids like him are the reason I do what I do.

He’s eating a chicken sandwich and greens, and I’m having my peanut butter and jelly. He has had his head down for 2 days in homeroom, and he’s told me his throat hurts, and that morning, he threw up. I asked him if he could go to the doctor, and he said no one could take him. So today I pry a little more. He’s already told me his mom is in jail. I’m trying to find out who is around and how I can get him taken care of.

He’s staying with his mom’s boyfriend while his mom is in jail for (as I found out with a quick OPCSO search) attempted 2nd degree murder. He says she was with a cousin during a stabbing. He has 4 siblings. One child is under 1 year old. His grandmother who had kept him for a little while fell and hurt herself. She’s in a wheelchair. His dad has been in jail since my student was very young. His father murdered someone. He’s in for life. So my student and his 4 siblings stays with a man who had to quit his job to watch the little ones. My student can’t be taken to the doctor. There is no one who will take him.

He told me that he had asked that morning to be taken to the doctor, and that his mom’s boyfriend just walked by him, ignoring him. He told me he said, “If I had a heart attack, you’d leave me for dead.”

I try really hard to hold my tongue. My students don’t need to know my thoughts on their home situations (mostly, “WHY?”), but at this point, I said to him, “You know, it’s not fair. What’s happening is not fair. And it’s not right. You should be listened to. When you talk, someone should listen. It’s not right.”

I know that so many of our battles come from the cycle of life in New Orleans. Babies having babies. This boy’s mother is 3 years younger than me. She’s 29 with a 15 year old, 13, 10, 2 and almost 1 year old. I don’t want him to think that is ok to ignore a child when he is in need.

I can’t take him to the doctor. I can teach him, hang out with him, ask how he is, sneak him cough drops and sketch books and hope that he sees clearly the way out of the cycle.

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