I taught tough-as-nails Taneka as a 9th grader, and I'm teaching her again now as an 11th grader. In that time, I've realized that her rough exterior and sometimes snide comments are just her way; she's actually a frightfully honest ("Yeah, I know I only got 2 right out of 15! I didn't read!"), and very funny individual, who might seem rude on the outset but really isn't.
She failed my class this quarter, receiving a grade in the 40s. I bumped it up to 55, and let it stay there. She came to talk to me after school today, something she does on occasion, but usually just to chat or to find a refuge from the loud hallways. Today, though, she wanted to ask why her grade on her journal was so low. I asked her to get it out. She had completed just 2 of the 4 required. They needed to be single-spaced, one per page. She double-spaced the two she had done, and even then they were too short. They also had no evidence. They were terrible. I explained this to her, and she said, "Well, is there anything I can do now? Can I re-do these?"
"I don't mind if you do, Taneka, but I don't think you should. I assigned you a whole lot of work for this week and next. You should concentrate on that work, instead of this old stuff. I already bumped your grade up enough so your first quarter won't hold you back too much. So just work on the new stuff, and get yourself a fresh start. Alright?"
She nodded her head, with her too-proud-too-beg exterior still in place. Then, though, a solitary tear poked its way out of her left eye.
I was shocked.
The right eye started gushing at that point, and I put my arm around her shoulders and led her out into the hallway where we could talk in private.
I honestly didn't know much of what to do. I have found that students cry in front of me mostly because they've screwed up badly and have no one to lash out at and no one to blame but themselves. And I know there is often more to that story, but in the handful of times I've had students cry, I know this to be the case - and I don't begrudge them for it. I think it's most natural to cry when there's nothing else you can do.
I offered my consoling words, such as they were, and hoped she would talk, for the silence was killing me. Finally, she did. She let me know that she's doing fine in the rest of her classes except for math, which she also failed. It's homework she has a hard time with. See, Taneka moved out, or was kicked out, of her mother's house over the summer. She's living with her grandmother, who really can't take care of her financially. Therefore, she's working every day after school and mostly fending for herself money-wise.
Now, I had a job every day after school, sort of like Taneka. But I drove to mine. I used mine for saving for college and buying CDs. Taneka is using hers to buy books for school, buy her clothes, and buy food. She has to take an hour bus ride to get to her job, both ways. She doesn't get home until nearly 11 every night.
This sucks, and the conversation has been running through my head all day. My stomach is in knots. I told her she's not allowed to pay for her books any more this year, that I've got that covered for her. I told her I could be flexible with due dates. Otherwise, I'll just be watching out.
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