Tagged: tough conversations

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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!