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"You just don't get me like other teachers do," he said to me one afternoon after school. "Other teachers, they make it easier. They go along with my dumb jokes. You don't like me."
Ever hear that before? What are the problems in what this ninth grader is saying to me? He thinks I don't get him. He thinks I work him too hard or expect to much. What else? He is spending time with me after school. He's either come for detention or academic intervention (help session/make up time after school for students that need it). He's blaming his academic performance on his perception of my attitude toward him. He has an external locus of control.
One truth, from my perspective, is he has not been doing school work: in class or at home. He wanders. He watches. He waits. He won't write, much. He told me during that same conversation that his, "writing sucks." He said, "I can't write. I can't write a novel (we tried NaNoWriMo this year). I can't write an essay. When I try to write a paragraph it's terrible." I told him the first time he served a tennis ball cross court it was probably terrible too. He disagreed. I replied with the idea that we can work with a terrible paragraph, but we can't work with nothing on a page. Again, he disagreed. He's thirteen.
A team at school has looked at ninth graders who are failing. In terms of our school data, thirteen year old ninth graders have the largest percentage of Ds and Fs during the first and second quarters.
These young ninth graders have 29% of all Fs earned in the first quarter and 54% of the Fs earned in the second quarter. Wow. There is practical significance for teachers and parents in the relationship between age, achievement and the transition to high school. In terms of Ds, passing grades nearly worthless to a student's grade point average, these students garner 23 % of the market. This same age group only earns 8% of the As for the second quarter. See how the colors shift in the distribution below.
What's happening here? What kind of pressures are these children facing? Why the steep failure rates? What does it mean? It's a problem I continue to puzzle over and research.
He's social. He likes to talk about what he wants to talk about to his friends or acquaintances in class. He uses the garbage can and pencil sharpener and sink often in class. He perambulates. He hasn't engaged in academics, yet. I often ask him to come for academic intervention--it's a time I offer students who have work to make up even long after due dates or grades. I've mentioned the afternoon sessions to his parents. He rarely comes.
I am trying to figure it out. I've talked to his parents. We've conferenced after school. I've asked him more than once what I can do to support him.
The day after our conversation I tried to listen more, so that I could catch a joke or two and play along as he'd asked. Unfortunately, his idea of a joke ("Want to suck my d...?") to a girl sitting across from him doesn't match mine at all. Seriously. So now what?
He's angry. He has a difficult home life. He's acting out. He's under the stress poverty creates. I'm trying to have honest conversations with him, but they aren't working, obviously. We'll see what happens.
What do you do with students like this? What's worked in your room?