When Saving the World is Exhausting

I see it scroll through my Twitter feed more often than a post about what someone is eating.

“Change the world!” “Make a difference!” “You were born to be a catalyst!” “Leave your mark on this planet!” “Live so that people will be sad that you die!” “What are you doing today that will affect change tomorrow?” and I am trying. I am trying to leave the mark and change the world and make a difference. But I am just so tired.

Our second grading period has ended and I am unhappy with the number of failures that I have. (Spoiler: more than zero failures, and I am not a happy camper.) I beg, I plead, I assign, I check up, I have already provided a week in class and three days in the computer lab. My student’s tell me they will do it. They will turn in the assignment, they will make up that grade. Every day I ask, they tell me it is coming. But we have six weeks left, just two weeks before Thanksgiving (after Thanksgiving the time flies by) and they are still failing my class. I don’t know what else to do.

So I give them a mandatory extra credit assignment, an in class writing to make up for some of the points that they missed on the far easier group project simply because they did not feel like doing the original project at the time it was due. I get a lot of eye rolls. What is the big deal?

The big deal is your future. That is the big deal. But how do you explain that to a 15-year-old who simply made the choice to play on his phone when he should have been writing his paper? I understand the desire. I have had to ban myself from my phone during work hours and I am an adult. I understand. I do. A couple of missing papers doesn’t seem like a big deal to someone who is just trying to get their driver’s licence.

But I also understand the school to prison pipe line. I understand it because I have watched so many of my first students follow it. I write-up as few as kids as possible and still watch many of my students get suspended. I invent make up assignment after make up assignment and yell when they aren’t turned in. I need you to pass so that you will graduate. I need you to graduate so that you won’t go to jail. It sounds dramatic, but it is the truth. An eleventh grader with all of their credits will follow the path of least resistance. For an eleventh grader with all of their credits, the path of least resistance ends in a cap and gown.

Someone who failed ninth and tenth grade English has to fight like hell just to get out of High school. Bad choices at 14 can have permanent consequences, especially for students who are also fighting poverty. It seems unfair that anything we do at 14 should affect us at 30 but it is true.

It is also true that 30 feels a million miles away to a 14-year-old. I know. A 30 something in a sea of 14-year-olds may as well be 120. Surely they will never be that old. It is just one paper Ms. Norman, what is the big deal?

The big deal is entrance into college, walking at the graduation ceremony, your mother not having to scrape together the 250 dollars she does not have to send you to summer school she cannot afford. The big deal is whether or not you are going to spend the next two years climbing up a hill you created for yourself, or coasting to the finish line.

I take deep breaths and try to remember that I am being the change I hope to see in this world.

I guess I just wish that someone would tweet about how tired it makes you.

11 thoughts on “When Saving the World is Exhausting

  1. Since teens are so peer-oriented, what about bringing in a guest speaker…someone in a GED program…or someone you find with the help of a probation or parole officer or social worker or prison chaplain…someone closer to your students’ age, who went through exactly what you’re describing above, and who wants to give back by talking to young people…

  2. Thanks for doing that hard work of “being” with the kids who are in your life every day. I taught high school for a few years – in a “failing” school. The “dragging” across the finish line is exactly what if often feels like. When I was teaching I often though, “People say you can at least lead the horse to water even if you can’t get them to drink, but sometimes you can’t get them there. You just can’t. And plopping a bucket full of water in front of them doesn’t seem to do the trick either.”

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