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What it Feels Like to Fail a Student

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Sierra Ward

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By Jackie DeCaro // As told by Sierra Ward

It’s the beginning of a new year teaching AP and regular biology. Maybe this will be the year all my students will try to succeed in class and turn in all their assignments. Maybe this year I will not have to call and email parents, caseworkers and counselors. This year could be the year I do not have to mail notice after notice to students’ homes in an attempt to make a student understand, to make them care. Deep down, I know that I am not that lucky and not everyone in school cares about their grades. They think they can get by without doing any work. I do not know who put that in their mind or how they continue to have that mentality going into their junior year of high school, but it amazes me with every student.

When I assigned the first homework assignment I was lucky enough to have every student turn it in on time. That’s a great start to the year. The second assignment had the same results. This is going well. One student forgot the third assignment. It’s one worksheet, one night. It will be fine. They can turn it in late. Two students forgot the fourth, including the one who forgot the third. That means the student has turned in 50 percent of the homework. I keep telling myself homework is a small percentage of a student’s total grade. The tests, quizzes, and projects will improve their grade. There’s no need for concern yet. The ‘F’ can easily be raised.

The first progress report is today and the same student never got their grade up from before. Each assignment I give comes back blank. That is if the kid is even in class. There has been no improvement whatsoever, no increase in effort. I asked the student to stay after class and talk to me; they just nodded as I spoke, looking bored. I had to contact the parents. Countless emails and phone calls have been shared between the parents, the student and I, but the parents have been unsuccessful in making the missing assignments appear on my desk. After talking to the student more and more often, I can tell there is no motivation to make a change. Each conversation is met with promises for improvement, but those are empty promises; there’s nothing I can do if there isn’t any motivation for change.

Second progress report. The grade is still slipping, I can’t even keep track of the missing assignments. The zeros in the grade book keep piling up and my stomach aches every time I have to add to the list. The grade is continuously getting lower. The lower the grade gets and the more time progresses, it becomes more difficult to fix. An after school meeting with the parents has resulted in no change. Going to parents has not helped in the slightest; talks with the student have had no effect. Next step is contacting a counselor. Maybe this will be the person that will get through to them. I am starting to feel depleted. I do not know if their mind is ever going to change. The stubbornness of some students amazes me. Why would they not want to do well? Especially when they see how many people are trying incredibly hard to help them succeed.

After talking with the counselor, I feel a little better. I know I have tried everything to get this student where they need to be. I know the counselor will try their best as well. I know everyone that needs to be contacted has been contacted and every opportunity that could be given was given. I tried everything I could to improve the grade. I tried everything I could to help them succeed, or at least pass. The student knows the material; their test and quiz scores are at least passing, sometimes exceeding passing. There is potential there and that is what hurts me the most. The only factor holding them back is effort. They are smart enough. All I need is for them to care.

It is nearing the end of the semester; the only grade left to go in the gradebook is the final exam and it is not weighted enough to get the final grade up to passing. They have one more day to turn in any missing assignments from the last unit. Sadly, I know it will not happen; my hopes are not high and my expectations are at the floor. After the final, I will have to submit the final failing grade. That is my least favorite thing. I know that I have tried everything in my power to help and there is absolutely nothing more I could have done, but the disappointment in myself as I submit the final grade is extreme. All I can do is hope I do not have to do this again. I hate it. I have failed a student and I have failed myself.

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What it Feels Like to Fail a Student