A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, January 13, 2007

You can't always get what you want...

I saw her today at the reception....

No, actually I saw her yesterday in the hallway. She is a sweet girl, and she started the year in my AP class. It was a struggle for her from the onset. She kept saying she wanted to be there, but she often had little idea about what was going on. She was confused about basic history. She did not write very well-- her sentences were often confused, which frankly reflected her understanding of the material. She often did not have her reading completed by deadline. She was in a community dance group and two dance groups at school, and she once briefly mentioned a mysterious boyfriend.

I approached Kiddo after the first week, and we discussed how much time she was spending on this class. Basically, she would spend no time on it until one certain day of the week, when she would then spend three to four hours. I tried to talk to her about developing the regular study habits that would help her succeed. Kiddo tried to say that she couldn't come for afterschool help because she had to go to practice for one of her dance groups at school, but I went to the teacher who sponsored it, and she absolutely supported the young lady coming for tutoring, since she had to maintain a certain GPA in order to remain on the squad (God, I LOVE coaches like that!).

I got my Kiddo to stay just one time for after school tutoring with me, and at the end of that session her comprehension was better, although everything certainly wasn't fixed-- not by a long shot. I really think that what she needed was someone to sit down with her and explain various references which she did not understand and give her a push. I was willing to do it until she got her feet under her, but she never came back, even though I asked her repeatedly and her coach urged her to come and we both talked to her mother. I tried to make her understand that this kind of course requires a certain level of commitment, and that if you can't make that commitment, for pity's sake don't flunk it but instead, please, for her own sake, she should drop down to a regular level class. Nothing doing.

Actually, that phone call to mom was an interesting conversation. The mom felt that her daughter didn't need any tutoring because "she's not stupid." No matter how much I tried to make the mother understand that tutoring does not imply stupidity, the mom was having none of it. The mother was a master of that really exhaustive practice which I call "bipolar parenting:" one second she would engage in berating her daughter to me and threatening all sorts of punishment, and the next minute she would praise her daughter for being a good girl-- which she was. The mother also insisted on explaining to me all kinds of frustration she was having with this girl and a certain adult male who was giving her daughter too much attention. We definitely were worried about that, both of us. Mom didn't seem to know how to keep the girl from seeing this guy when she worked two jobs and was gone from home for most hours of the day. But Mom also insisted that she not drop down a level to a less time-consuming course.

After I got off the phone after an hour of this, I went and left a note for her counselor to please contact me regarding Kiddo. We tried to work with her all semester. Then she disappeared for two weeks before Thanksgiving, and didn't come to school at all. I had to alert an AP about it, since this absence concerned me. She then came back, and we talked about how to try to get caught up, but it didn't happen and she never attended a full week of classes again until the end of the semester. After hovering around a D minus for 10 weeks, Kiddo's grade sank into the 40s. Then she made a concerted push and her grade came up a bit. Then she disappeared again, and I went to the counselor and recommended that she drop down a level next semester, and the counselor agreed. Of course, the counselor didn't get to talk it over with her, because she didn't come to school for the next three days after our conversation. Then she came back, and when the counselor talked to her, she talked the counselor into not changing her schedule after all.

But the killer was when she did not finish her final exam. She flunked for the semester. By a lot. No matter how you sliced it. This class fulfills the requirement for a required course for graduation, so she will now have to take summer school, where if you miss more than two days, they forcibly drop you. I went back to the counselor and recommended again that she drop down a level for her own good for next semester, since she was in no way prepared to pass the second half of the course, and I couldn't bear the idea of her losing an entire year's worth of credit. That kind of thing can drive a kid to drop out. She had said repeatedly that she wanted to stay, but her actions screamed out, "I'm in over my head!"

So I didn't see her again until yesterday, walking down the hall to her new class. She smiled and ran to me and gave me a hug and I gave her my traditional noogie. I asked how she was doing, and she said, "Better!" in a heartfelt way. She then zipped off to class so she wouldn't be late.

I know she wanted to stay in AP. I would've loved to have her stay, but not at the expense of her getting off track for graduation.

Because-- you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find that you get what you need. I know I'm hoping that she does.


At 1/13/07, 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for checking out the blog.

The Pats did have their dark days... right now, however, we're in the midst of a golden era and I plan to savor every carat.

Nice blog, by the way. Quite prolific!

At 1/13/07, 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is why, at my daughter's high school, kids had to apply to do AP classes. They had to sign a contract, and the parents did too, that stated that they understood how much work is involved and that they would spend no more than X hours per week in jobs or other extracurricular activities. And they all had to take the AP tests; we had to pay for them upfront. Kids who were borderline on their previous grades had to take placement tests before they were allowed to sign up for AP classes. I'm writing this in past tense b/c I suspect things have changed. The school board told the principal that this approach was elitist (read: resulted in too many white kids) and she quit her job.

But they told us up-front that they absolutely did not want to see kids get in over their heads, and this was why all the rigorous screening. There were 12 students in my daughter's AP English Lit class. They worked harder than I did in my college lit class. She made a 5 on her exam. But we can't be elitist, can we.

At 1/14/07, 5:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and hauntingly surreal. The Stones lyrics in the last sentence... none does it better. Thanks, Mrs. Cornelius.

At 1/14/07, 11:23 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

We have absolutely open enrollment. Most of the time, this works in an acceptable manner. I hardly ever have kids earn a failing grade for the semester, because I either advise them to leave while they can still earn a credit elsewhere or they opt out themselves when they see that we really mean that we will do our best to prepare students for college-level work and to earn a passing score on the exam.

But every now and then, you get kids who want the transcript-tatting cachet and who resist doing the work. Or you get one of these kids who I think are afraid of change or whatever other reason that just ride that sinking ship straight on down.

Thanks, Jan! Thanks b-g, although your time will come, my friend, thanks to free agency.... Your guys pulled off a good one today.

At 1/15/07, 9:19 AM, Blogger dan said...

I think open enrollment is key for AP classes. I've had students outside of the "honors" track thrive in AP - an opportunity they would not have had otherwise. However, I've also found in my sophomore AP World class a number of kids get "over their head" - many of them end up dropping at least one of their honors classes or my AP class (at sophomore level, AP World is the only AP level class).

When I see them around a few weeks later, they are generally less stressed - though maybe a little disappointed that they couldn't "cut it."

At 1/23/07, 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The AP math classes in my school are very selective in who they let in. This still does not guarantee success. I have one kid who slept through the semester. Trips to GC did nothing to help him. He's dropping course, says it's too hard. He just doesn't want to do the work.


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