As I passed her in the library she had her arms folded under her chin and a frown on her face. She seemed really down so I asked her how she was doing. Fine, she replied but she did so the same way I do when everything is all but fine.
I considered moving on. If you let too many kids in it takes being a teacher from tough to heartbreaking. All of the children seem to have a story. A broken home there a lack of opportunity here. It can be overwhelming if you let it. This however was a good kid. Where her grades were very average all her teachers liked her as she is always polite and respectful and at least during class never failed to make an effort. During a previous conversation she told me how she wanted to be a music teacher someday and how she sang in a family gospel band. After hearing this and finding out and that she wasn’t taking music I introduced her to the schools music teacher in the hope that maybe they would make a connection and could set something up next year. I really love music, was one of the first things she had told me.
Like almost all my kids do, she deserved a little more than a, that’s cool, I’ll see you later, which is often all I can afford to give, from me.
So I asked, “well, how’s school going?” figuring we would either get to what was bothering her eventually or at the very least I would take her mind off her problem for a minute. She then looked up at me and this was the first time during this conversation that we had actually made eye contact and I instantly knew that while trying to take her mind off her problem I had found it.
School is actually one of the biggest problems that many children have. They don’t like it or aren’t interested in it. They are often too young to see the big picture and to realize how important it is. Many can’t really turn to their peers either as many feel the same way. Furthermore their parents aren’t much help either. So many of them are concentrating just on putting food on the table or getting barely by that they don’t have the time or energy to play that much of a role in their children’s education. They trust their kid’s schools to do it.
It turns out school was her problem and she was feeling overwhelmed with it. “Sometimes it’s just too much and I have nothing to look forward to.” she blurted out. I felt for her, many kids have hours of homework to do each and every night for subjects they aren’t or are at best just marginally interested in. I think homework is important but even though they seem to be growing up faster and faster so is being a kid. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these kids.
Okay, I thought seeing the desperation in her eyes, “tell me what the problem is.”
She started, “It’s my schedule, on A days I have intensive math, intensive reading, biology and world history.” Her B day schedule was the same except biology and world history were replaced with geometry and English II. I did a double take; nowhere on her schedule was PE, art or what she loved the most, music.
Since she had made a two on the f-cat she was required to take both intensive courses which were offered every day. At no time when speaking to me did she mention that her teachers were mean to her or the amount of work she had to do. She also seemed to understand why she was in the classes she was in, though that wasn’t making it any easier on her.
I thought for a moment about what to say, and what I thought was, if I had a schedule like that I would probably be down and feel a little overwhelmed too. Though I knew just because I thought that, I definitely couldn’t say it.
I also didn’t want to say; well I have seen worse schedules, kids taking algebra I which is a prerequisite for geometry and geometry at the same time. Apparently prerequisite has some alternative meaning I was unaware of. Or that I have also seen kids taking English II and III in addition to multiple maths and that she was far from the only student without an elective on her schedule.
I didn’t want to say that the district in its zeal for preparing children for a global economy had no idea what it was like to be a kid today. They didn’t understand that there one size fits all philosophy was actually setting many children back.
I didn’t want to say things were the way they are because the math and science lobby was more aggressive and better financed than the art and music lobby. Actually I am not so sure art and music have a lobby though if they did they should be fired because they are just as important as math and science and it’s time somebody got a clue about that. It’s a shame those classes are always first on the chopping block.
I didn’t want to say, the truth is education is no longer about producing well rounded citizens capable of going to college or entering the workforce. Instead all children are is a line on a spread sheet which says, if this then that. Instead of playing to children’s strengths and desires something that would almost ensure success even in the classes they were marginally interested in, now the powers-that-be had decided that society would be better benefited by forcing all children into a single all inclusive curriculum.
I didn’t want to say sadly you’re enrolled in a school system that on one hand puts so many kids in no win situations and then on the other seems surprised when they don’t succeed. That it should be common sense that children have at least one class built into their schedule that they look forward to if for no other reason than to give them a break from all the core academic classes. Though making sure they wanted to go to school because they had something they were interested in or to look forward to isn’t such a bad reason either.
I didn’t want to say that I get why so many children drop out or quit. They are behind and fall farther and farther behind with their schedules, that there is no wiggle room. I get that they become over whelmed because they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and then turn to the streets or worse to fill their days.
I didn’t want to say any of those things so instead after I collected myself and I said, I’m sorry, and for a while that’s all I said. She looked at me as if she expected more, some words of wisdom to keep her going, some insight that it was going to get better. So after my long pause I followed up my initial, I’m sorry, with words to those effect.
I sincerely hope she believed my words more than I did.