Tagged: graduation

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #16

One month before graduation. “Now what?”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 4/18 2:10 pm
Family meeting week, the last of my advisees’ high school careers. I meet with K’s mom for five minutes, just to let her know that K is on track to graduate May 28. K has all her credits, she’s passing her classes, and she’s in good shape for the senior exhibition. Go ahead and order the invitations for the graduation party! K’s already paid her deposit to CSU Stanislaus; she’s ready to go. It’s the easiest meeting I’ll have all week.

2:45 pm
D’s mom comes in to talk about D’s progress toward graduation. He’s currently failing two classes, and he owes over 30 academic hours. D swats it away like it’s nothing: “Yeah yeah. I’m taking care of it,” he says.

“What about your exhibition slides? I haven’t seen any of them, and all 15 are due Friday,” I tell him. “You have to pass the exhibition to graduate.”

“Yeah yeah,” he says again, yawning and looking at his phone.

D’s mother takes copious notes in the binder she keeps for tracking D’s school endeavors. She knows that D has absolutely zero wiggle room, that he cannot fail one more class or miss one more credit if he wants to graduate on time. She has experienced his Fs as well as his last-minute recoveries. She’s been on this roller coaster for a while.

I tell them both: D can either walk across the stage on May 28th or not. It’s all in his hands. He nods again, checking his phone and pushing back his chair to leave.

3:30 pm
I’m surprised to see N on campus still, school having let out over an hour ago. N has stopped staying at school until the end of the day, cutting out the last 30 minutes or so every day because he can’t handle being here, or so he says. He’s angry all the time he’s not stoned, and he’s hard to be around. It’s almost a relief when he cuts out early, even though it’s absolutely not OK for him to be skipping school.

I ask him what he’s doing.

“Working on AP Bio with Ms. P,” he tells me and keeps walking toward the science room.

I’m surprised. It’s typical of N to buckle down the last few weeks of school and scrape by in his classes. But we still have another couple weeks! It’s not quite last-minute yet!

I resolve to call his mother and tell her the same thing I told D’s mom: N may or may not walk the stage in a few weeks. But I’m betting he will.

Wednesday, 4/20 4 pm
K is worried I’m going to tell her mother bad news. She has a good reason to worry: K never showed her mother her report card from January. K’s failing three classes, and her mother is concerned that K is always out with her friends and never at home studying. K’s older brother dropped out of high school and sits around the house getting stoned all the time, so mother naturally worries that K is destined for the same fate. The mother works long hours, cleaning people’s houses to make enough money to barely get by. She brought her children to this country to give them a better life, to give them opportunities she didn’t have.

K has to translate the bad news to her mother, and then translate her mother’s reaction. It’s too much for her, and she refuses to translate when it comes time to tell her mother she may or may not graduate, depending on whether or not she can bring up her Spanish grade. She cries instead of telling her mother she won’t be able to go to college if she doesn’t bring up her grades. Her mother can tell I’ve given some bad news—she sees her daughter crying—but she doesn’t know what I’ve said, and K refuses to say what she needs to say. I finally have to use Google translate. Her mother listens carefully to the robotic voice tell her that her daughter’s future is in limbo, that she may have to rescind her college acceptance and the scholarship and the work study and all the assistance she’s been offered if she doesn’t buckle down and get her work done. I’m embarrassed, listening to that horrible voice read this woman’s future to her. I wish I had found another teacher to translate, a human being to convey the scary news.

Again, I didn’t think it through. I didn’t put myself in this mother’s place and imagine a robot telling me my child’s future. What have I done?

4:45 pm
I talk to M’s mother on the phone. Her son has all As and Bs, has completed all his community service and academic hours, and is in excellent shape for graduation. She knows all this, of course, because she keeps a very close eye on her boy. She calls regularly, to ask about deadlines and upcoming events and homework assignments. She checks his emails and recently told me she’d found her son a date to prom but she needed to find one for his brother. Did I have any suggestions? I didn’t.

Friday, 4/22 3:30 pm
C’s dad calls for our family meeting. He’s a contractor and has had to take a lot of time off to deal with his younger son, C’s brother, who skips school all the time and is failing all his classes. C is the oldest, the exceptional child and very much a typical child of alcoholic parents: straight As, self-centered, over-achieving. He’s applied to schools all over the country, top-tier schools with excellent engineering programs, as well as UC Berkeley and UCLA. His number one choice is MIT.

His father and I spend a few minutes talking about what C needs to do to graduate in May: keep doing what he’s doing, and work on his senior exhibition. We spend more time lamenting that C hasn’t been accepted into any of the schools he applied to. How can that be? He’s a straight-A student, played soccer all four years of high school, first generation to go to college, qualifies for free and reduced lunch, Mexican American. What’s the problem? I don’t understand it, and I tell his father as much. I wish C had applied to some CSUs, but he brushed those aside. He was so confident. Now what? favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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One last chance for connection

 My school has an Advisory program designed to promote strong teacher-student relationships. The philosophy is that students and families are well known by at least one adult at the school so that students do not fall through the cracks. The adviser works with a group of 16-20 students for four years, from the first day of high school to the last. The goal is not to lose any of your advisees.

A few days ago, I thought I’d lost one of my students. Deadlines had come and gone; the student hadn’t completed all her of requirements, including some Cyber High courses. Our relationship, always tenuous, had erupted in conflict, and we were no longer on speaking terms. I’d resigned myself to letting her go and focusing on my graduating seniors.

But my good friend and colleague, the vice principal at the school, did not give up, and neither did my student. While I prepared for graduation and began packing up my classroom, my advisee sequestered herself in the vice principal’s office, plugging away on the computer, hour after hour.

On Wednesday night, amid Senior Dinner festivities, my student completed her math class. I was happy with her accomplishment and hopeful that she would complete the World History component the next day. But because of our fractured relationship, I did not approach my student to offer assistance.

Luckily, the vice principal reached out. I received a phone call yesterday morning. She asked me whether I’d be open to helping my student with the history portion. Thank you, Beth, for your leadership.

I quickly agreed, went to school, and spent a couple hours coaching my advisee on World War I, Gandhi, and fascism.

My student and I didn’t apologize to each other for our previous mistakes. We didn’t spend time rebuilding our relationship. We just talked about history and did the work. There were no grudges from either side. We even allowed ourselves to laugh a couple times.

Later that day, my advisee passed the class and earned her right to graduate today on stage, on time, with the rest of her class. 

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Dezmond and Ramir: New York Times winners!

 A few posts ago, I challenged readers to help me give a graduation gift — a three-month subscription to The New York Times — to two lucky students, one from my Advisory class and one from AP English.

In less than 24 hours, three generous readers — Iris, Jenni, and Denise — had funded the project, and the raffle was officially on.

Last Friday, amid quite a bit of buzz, we drew the lucky winners: Dezmond and Ramir!

Both students were extremely happy. Dezmond told me today that he can’t wait to start receiving his subscription. (I told the students that the paper would start on September 1, after they’d settled into college.)

Dezmond will be going to college in Seattle, while Ramir is heading south to Los Angeles.

Again, thank you to Iris, Jenni, and Denise. You’re providing a graduation gift that will transform my students’ lives. You’re helping them love the news and to enter a more complex world — all at a high reading level! 

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Staying focused after Spring Break

favicon It’s after Spring Break. For the seniors I teach, this means graduation is in sight. They’ve received admission (or rejection) from college. There’s a bit of an anticlimax in the air. They’re counting down the days.

As a teacher, this is probably the hardest time of the year. The AP exam is coming up on May 10, and my students can do well if they prepare. But motivating them to work hard is not easy right now.

Meanwhile, I’m concerned about the seniors who might not graduate. Four years ago, I lost an advisee just three weeks before graduation. All of a sudden, she stopped coming to school. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get her back. It affected me deeply.

Self-sabotage is a powerful force. Sometimes, success is as scary as failure. And I’m not talking about students. As teachers, it’s easy at the end of the year to disengage, to start looking to August. It’s easy to say, “I’ve taken my students this far. It’s time that they take care of themselves. After all, they’re graduating, and they won’t have me in the real world.”

It’s easy to say this, but it’s also retreating and making excuses. The truth is, My students need me more now than ever before. Therefore, instead of disengaging, it’s important that I stay focused on helping my students cross the stage on June 2 and have a concrete plan for their future.

If I don’t succeed, at least I know I did my best. And I won’t have any regrets if something goes wrong. Yes, what’s coming up is an end. It’s important that I do things the right way. favicon