October 29, 2010

Reflection on a Problem Student

A post at The Desert Glows Green brought to surface a dilemma I'm having about one of my students at night school. What does one do with a student who talks, talks, talks?

Last night I had a conversation with the counselor about a student whom I have in both proficiency English and creative writing. He's been a pain in my butt most of the year, so it's been an on-going conversation between us, and it has has gone between the counselor and the student, too. One night I had enough and sent her an e-mail along the lines of, "Talk to this kid, or tomorrow there will be a homicide." It's a small school, so she grabbed him out of class that very night. The line of the conversation between them leaned heavily on the fact that he's a leader, and he's leading the wrong way--this was a slant I wanted to focus on. According to the counselor, the student wants to do well, he wants to graduate, but I just don't see that most of the time. Apparently he's so much better than he used to be. I guess I'm thankful I am working with the new and improved version.

Although he needs the help to pass his proficiencies, we are thinking about taking him out of that class because he leads too many people astray with his attitude and misbehavior. Part of me does not want to give up on him, but then he is directly affecting the development of two other students. In a class of 10, that's a pretty big deal. He goofs off, talking Spanish all the time with three other boys (one will pass his proficiency), and then when I'm on their asses to get on task, it ruins the class atmosphere, and it becomes me and against them.

Now, the rest of the class, they are able to function pretty well despite these disruptive boys. Sometimes they'll join in and laugh at a joke or something, but with such a small class, I think that's normal. The difference is, the rest of them can get back on task. The rest of them produce writing. The rest of them understand that the more they write, the more feedback I can give them, the faster they will become proficient. The rest of them are acting maturely, even to the point they tell the boys to be quiet and get on task. Two of the students in the class are also ELL students who do not speak Spanish, and they get irritated with all the Spanish speaking, too, and will often tell them to stop speaking in Spanish. These other students I adore.

While I am writing this, the obvious choice, since I have one, is to dump him from the proficiency class. Although the counselor and I would like for him to pass his proficiencies and graduate, at this point we are leaning toward the stance that if the student does not want to help himself he can go down the hallway to art, which is also an elective credit, and leave the class to those who are desperate to help themselves. He doesn't want to be in the class anyway, and if he knew we were considering it, he'd be camped out in the counselor's office until she changed his schedule.

Last night, the class was smaller than it usually is, sans the students with a bad attitude and one of his friends, with the gradebook closed out for the quarter and a five-day weekend ahead, we sat at a table ready to play word game, but instead the students asked me about how much money I made. They always want to know that, and the technical answer is that we all make different amounts because we have different levels of experience and education. It's uncomfortable, but I told them how much I make, which blew them away. However, that segued nicely into a long conversation about education and careers and how hard and long the average person has to work to make good money. Not one of the students believed that they would be able to get rich quick. They are all preparing to work hard in the next few years so they can play hard later in life. That's a refreshing perspective I don't often see in young people.

They shared with me their plans, hopes, dreams, and fears. It's moments like this I love working at the alternative high school. It's these in-between moments when I'm a different kind of teacher, and even more like a friend or wise auntie, that I really feel like I make a difference in their lives. I can push and prod them to get more education, be it a certification program or a college degree and try a career, instead of a job. They are on the brink of the rest of their lives, and they understand how important their choices are right now. Yes, they are nervous but mostly excited. Some simply need to pass their proficiency test to they can move on, while others finally see that their abilities to communicate will make a huge difference in the opportunities they have.

On my drive home, I reflected back to the conversations and questions they had, and I realized that had the problem student been there, it would not have been such a candid discussion. He would have turned everything into a joke, focusing the attention on himself. It's what he does in every situation. He needs to go. He's not at the same place the rest of the students in his class are in. They are growing up. He's not there yet.


The Vegas Art Guy said...

1. Thanks for the link. Those problem kids are still problems but I am working on it. Putting a 'u' on their citizenship will get their attention as well I hope. Next stop for two of them is the dean's office. It kills me because 2 of the 3 kids are very smart and should have A's and don't because of their motor mouths.

2. Get him out of class, it's not fair for that one kid to mess it up for everyone else. Let him find out the hard way (like I did) that you need a good education to be successful.

3.I also teach a credit retrieval class and have the same issue with several students there as far as a lack of effort. When we come back from break I am going to have a heart to heart with them and tell them they better bust their asses in the 2nd quarter if they hope to pass the semester.

Ms Characterized said...

I think you're right to move him. The needs of the many (OK, the other 9) outweigh his. They want to grow -- he doesn't want to, or isn't ready, as you say.

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