This is my second to last blog in this series and I thought that I would double back to where I began. The bio Dome. I won’t rehash the whole thing right here because it’s available on this site and you are free to peruse it at your leisure. However, the basic idea is that our students are leaving high school unprepared to meet the resistance that life will inevitably present. They are smart. They are capable. What they are not is resourceful. They have been pursued so relentlessly by the stakeholders in their lives that they aren’t sure what to do when all of a sudden they have to pursue. So, I’m proctoring AP Physics this afternoon and I have to be honest, this doesn’t smell like a room full of fives. It’s beautiful outside, graduation is just around the corner (presumably) and it is taking everything that this room can muster to stay focused long enough to prove that they understand kinematic equations as they pertain to a free fall.
This year seems to be tougher than others and I am fully prepared to tackle the idea that maybe it’s me and not the students, but consider this scenario: last week I stood in front of our senior class for a “pep talk” of sorts. I needed to let them know that if graduation were to happen the next day there would be a large portion of them not invited to participate. It’s weird. These are good kids, smart kids, kids with options. This class will go all over the country and around the world to continue their education, but all of a sudden the distance between May 13 and May 29 (graduation) is a chasm that they cant make themselves cross. They have consistently served, led and been proud of this school. Now, they have just quit. They seem to revel it in as though they have collectively decided that this is a part of their class identity. 30-year-old Jeff might have laughed it off, but 42-year-old Jeff was pissed. I love this class, but I am angry. I was angry that so many hours were being spent dragging this class to the finishing line. I was angry that some of them were threatening to make me a liar in my letters of recommnedation. I was angry at the level of disrespect that it shows to teachers when you choose to simply ignore an assessment or assignment. Anger turns to self evaluation and maybe even finger pointing. Did we need a new set of rules of engagement called The 2014 Priciples?
So what’s the answer? No, seriously what’s the answer? Do they need to be allowed to fail? Not graduate? As adults, we know that they will regret finishing this way. We know that character will be revealed in the way that they finish. We also know that the concept of “finishing” does not apply here because this is not the finish. So many of these students can look forward to four or more years of undergrad and post grad work. How do we best prepare them for the next time this crisis comes up?
Chalking it up to senioritis is not the answer. Validating a condition that the world outside of high school does not recognize only creates victims. We can’t have students walking around with the attitude of, “it’s not me, it’s the senioritis.” I can’t stand it when we witness bad behavior, shrug our shoulders, scrunch up our faces, put our hands on our hips and say, “looks like a another bad case of senioritis….” I might be overstating this (I have a tendency to do that), but it feels very similar to saying that someone who is clinically depressed is simply blue. It dangerously underestimates the issue. I remember feeling this way as a senior. In hindsight, so much of it was stemming from fear and the idea that everything was changing or that maybe I wasn’t good enough. The fear was crippling and there were days that I felt frozen by it. I’m not suggesting that we approach this without sympathy for what our students might be going through. I’m simply suggesting that we don’t blindly accept the status quo by throwing up our hands and admitting that this is simply the world that we live in. Aren’t we in education to affect change?
I know that the class of 2014 did not invent this, and maybe my memory is short and this class is no different, but I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our role and even harder questions about the enabling behavior that is happening at home. I know that there will be real consequences for not completing a task and our students are so used to being incentivized that it’s nigh to impossible to turn off the spigot. When they are young they don’t understand the value of reading comprehension and so you trade reward for effort and soon (hopefully) reading is its own reward. My hope is that this room of AP students understands that they’ve put in too much work to quit now. In other words, if you quit a 100 meter swim race after 80 meters you drown. We can threaten, shake our fists and withhold the carrots of the graduation season. But that just seems like a band aid. In a perfect world I would prefer that they recognize the people who’ve invested in them and prepared them and that they would respond by finishing this chapter in a way that honors those individuals. It seems like they will be much more likely to make the same investment in others. These are seeds that you are planting. You may not get to see the end result, but there is value in planting. And what happens when they realize the impact you’ve made in their lives? They sheepishly come back to visit and offer a thank you. Best case scenario, they also have a size able gift card to give you.
By Jeff Morrow