A colleague of mine called me tonight. I’m leery of publishing this story, but I’m so off-kilter by the encounter that I really need some advice.
She tutors one of the boys in my class, and she’s upset that he’s not getting The Epic of Gilgamesh, and it may be beyond him. He’s not up to the challenge. I should scale back, and do something easier.
I said, “I’m not sure he’s up to the challenge either. But he’s not trying, so I don’t know if he’s up to it or not.”
“How do you know he’s not trying? Maybe he’s not trying because he can’t do it.”
“Trying would imply that he gets his reading packet out when I ask him. That he close his computer when I ask him. That he put notes in the reading when I ask him. But he’s not following along with the reading in class, and not participating in the question and answer sessions, and not doing the in-class writing, and not keeping up with the notes.”
“How do you know all that?”
“Because every time I call on him, he’s late and doesn’t respond. Because his notebook is empty. Because he doesn’t have a notes file on his computer screen. And because he’s watching NBA games online.”
“Well, he shouldn’t be doing that. It’s not appropriate. You should take his computer as our policies…”
“No one will take his computer in high school, I’m afraid. If he chooses to meet challenge with avoidance tactics, he will fail. And that is what will happen here in the last quarter of his last term at this school if he doesn’t at least make some in-class effort.”
“Oh. Well, I still think this Gil… gilgamesh thing is too hard for him. And that’s why he’s not all there in class. Good night.”
As teachers, we’re often expected simultaneously to coddle and to challenge our students, and finding the right balance is tricky. I probably should confiscate this student’s laptop. But will he really learn that watching NBA games in class is not helpful if I do that? One of Lemov’s strategies is “no opt out” and yet this kid is clearly opting out. What will it take to get him to opt in? And what about this other teacher? How do I get her buy-in and support?