"Y'all are askin' me to do too much! It's just too much fam, it's too much!" He sits next to me and is shutting down. His English assignment is basically untouched in front of him. A pen sits idly next to the blank page, waiting to prove its utilitarianism.
The end of the term is less than a week away, and at this moment he is failing English. One failed class means he is behind in credits. Will not graduate in May with his class. Probably won't return next year to be humiliated as a so-called "super senior." Thinks he'll just drop out.
It's a lot of stress and pressure for both him and for me, because his mom is sick and will be saddened if he can't make it; because my school is really pushing an agenda of "F reduction." We are told not to lower our standards, but to reduce the number of failing grades. That means a lot of work, for both him and for me. We sit at a small, round table. I am tired. He is tired. And he is frustrated by the amount of work that still needs to be done. "I ain't fittin' to do this much stuff! It just ain't worth it. I'm never gonna pass. I might as well just drop out."
"If you want to drop out, there's the door. You can go ahead and walk out. But while you're walking, I want you to think about the fact that I am still going to be sitting here. I am feeling your pressure and I know that we are almost out of time, but we can do this. I am going to help you. I want to help you pass this class and graduate on time. But if you're just going to sit here and complain, and fight with me, I'm not going to do it. In the time that you've been sitting here complaining, we could've had one assignment done already!"
Does that sound harsh? Sometimes it seems like a fine line between encouraging a student and challenging them to stop feeling sorry for themselves. Stop talking about how hard it is and just try... But they've experienced such failure already...and received so little support...that sometimes it seems like they just need a big nudge--like a mother bird nudging her fledglings out of the nest.