I sat in the conference room with eight other educators as we tried to figure out how to save one kid. He’d been recommended for special education services, but it was clear within the first few minutes of the meeting that he did not qualify. He rarely attends class– and so many other factors. There are gaps in his learning wider than should ever happen in the life of a child.
“He says he didn’t attend third grade,” one teacher said.
“I thought he repeated third,” another said as she flipped through his file. “He jumped to fifth,” she finally says.
“He spent most of one year out of the country. Never was in school.”
“Father was deported.”
“Foster care for a while.”
“How did this child ever get through middle school?”
Silence. No one has the answer.
He’s 15, and he can barely read and write. He’s easily five years behind his peers in basic skills. No wonder he doesn’t want to be in class.
This is the tall and husky, bright eyed young man who told me a month ago that he’d never read a whole book. I got him to try one: 4 grade reading level. He gave it 10 minutes before he started messing with his headphones. When I asked him why he gave up, he told me he’d read the first two pages three times, and it didn’t make sense. I gave him another book: 2.5 reading level. He agreed to try. He read for 20 minutes. The longest I’ve ever seen him attempt anything remotely academic.
At the end of class he asked me if he could take the book with him. “Sure, I said, will you really read it?” He told me yes with a shy smile, and he tucked that Bluford High book into his backpack. “How do you think it will feel when you finish that book?” I asked. “It will be badass” was his honest reply, and he waited to see how I would respond. I told him that if he’d finish that book and have a talk with me, we’d have a celebration– a badass celebration. He grinned his approval.
Sadly, I’ve only seen him twice since that conversation. He came to class once, but we were in the middle of a district assessment, and he sat playing with his new red headphones. The other time I saw him was in passing–literally. He passed by my room instead of coming in for class. Sigh.
I left that meeting today feeling like a failure, but I know it’s not my fault. This child needs one-on-one instruction. He also needs a mentor, a tutor, a life coach, a sponsor, a guide, a therapist. I am just one teacher who gave a $1 book to a kid who can barely read.
It’s a bit unsettling. And it’s quite disturbing. What happens to this child? What does his life look like when he’s gone from here? And, always the question: Could I have done more?
Somehow, someway, I really want to have that badass celebration.