So, now that the holidays are all done, I can talk to you about a special student of mine. I actually wrote about him before in the post entitled “You Really Are The Worst, Brother”. I’m talking about the kid I affectionately refer to as “Drax”. As you remember, Drax didn’t start this current school year off very well, but he got his act together, voluntarily came to tutoring, asked to be moved away from distracting students, and focused on his studies. He managed to pull his grade up in my class from an F to a B by the end of the first quarter. I wish I could say the story ends with his continued rise due to my bad-assery. Sadly, by December, Drax’ grades in all his classes (except PE) dropped to failing.
NuIn addition to his grades, Drax’ behavior worsened as well. He was getting to be a pretty big pain in the ass, so I pulled him aside during my prep late last November to get to the bottom of his sudden decline. He opened up and told me he just didn’t see the point in school anymore. He was motivated before to improve because it was required so he could remain on his football team, but he had recently realized he didn’t like the sport anymore. He had no idea what he wanted to do now that football was out of the picture. On top of that, he already felt that none of the subjects he was learning in his classes were relevant to his life. In short, his disruptive behavior at the end of the semester was due to a loss of direction, which led to a loss of motivation, which led to him trying to kill time at school by doing whatever the heck he wanted. In spite of all this, I knew Drax was still a good kid deep down, so I asked him to think about the other kids in class and not to make it hard for them to learn. He agreed. Since then, I have had only occasional poor behavior from him, which I can’t really blame him for. I mean, how would you behave if you were forced to be somewhere you didn’t want to be and were bored out of your freaking mind?
Something interesting happened though in the last couple of weeks of first semester. I sent Drax over to a next door teacher, McKenzie Kelly, a few times for timeouts, sometimes for being disruptive and other times to give him a change of scenery to break the monotony he had to endure daily. Mrs. Kelly, a young first year teacher who possesses the wisdom of an educator far beyond that of her 25 years, welcomed him into her class every time with a smile and included him in her class as if he were one of her own students. She always reported he was well behaved, and was so very gracious in allowing him to continue going over to her class as needed. After about a week of this, Drax eventually started asking me if it were okay for him to go over to Mrs. Kelly’s class right at the beginning of the period. I had gotten nothing but good behavior reports about him from my neighbor, so I allowed it all the way through to the end of first semester.
On my last day of work before going on Winter Break, I spoke with Mrs. Kelly about Drax. She said he was very helpful and participated in her class. He would even get upset when other students were misbehaving and would get those kids back on task. She proposed swapping students so that she could take Drax since he was doing so well with her, and I would receive one of her kids in exchange. I mulled over the idea through winter break. Upon returning at the beginning of second semester, I was all ready to talk to the counselor to see if the student swap could be made, but Mrs. Kelly shared with me a realization she had made. Drax likes to be the only special kid who is assigned to one teacher, but gets to go to another teacher. If he were to be transferred to Mrs. Kelly’s class, then his special status would fade and so too would his revitalized work ethic. I have no idea how she came to this wise conclusion, but I knew she was right. Drax seemed excited to go over to Mrs. Kelly’s class every time he asked. So, we decided to keep our rosters as they were, so long as Drax’ behavior was not troublesome for my neighbor.
Fortunately, this semester the 8th grade science team is very much in sync. We have near identical lesson plans and pacing, so Drax is getting pretty much the exact same content and materials that he would be getting were he to remain in my class every day. He hasn’t been getting all his assignments done, but he’s definitely doing more and putting forth more effort than he did the previous quarter. Other than the whole “I’m-special-because-I-get-to-go-to-Mrs.-Kelly’s-class-but-still-enrolled-in-Vo’s-class” thing, I have absolutely no idea why the current arrangement I have with Drax motivates him to do any work. All I know is that it works… kind of.
The piece of the puzzle still missing is finding something that will give Drax ambition. He doesn’t see the relevance his current classes have in his life, so he’s not motivated to excel academically. Before losing interest in football, he was very ambitious. As stated above, he did whatever he could and raised his grade from an F to a B. For some kids, getting high marks in their classes is motivation enough. They just want to excel and get straight A`s. Most kids, like Drax, need an external motivator, a reason to put in the effort. Drax doesn’t have one. I’ve been trying to find him one, but haven’t had any success. I’m not even sure I should be pushing it. After all, he’s just a middle schooler. How many of us adults are working in the career we had imagined for ourselves in middle school? Not me! I was gonna be a doctor (please read “Sam Vo – A Case Study In What It Takes To Be A Good Teacher“). Hell, some folks are still trying to “find” themselves into their 20s, 30, and 40s. Is it really fair for me to expect a 13-year-old kid to know what he wants to do when he grows up? So, I’ve been focusing on finding a motivator for the present, like my Active Club, other sports, etc. He did express some interest in tattoos to Mrs. Kelly. I got as far as deciding to begin research into the creation of a “science of tattoos” curriculum just for Drax, but then he lost interest about 2 days later. Ugh!
I’m going to keep this post short and wrap it up. Let me close by stating 2 things. Number 1, if you have a student who is performing poorly in pretty much every class including yours, maybe find him an agreeable educator who teaches the same subject as you and send that kid to her. Let the kid know how special he is and that few students get to work with another teacher while still enrolled in your class. It might be enough to jumpstart their improvement. Number 2, number 1 will only get you so far with that kid. Drax is capable of good work, and I want him to do more than just the bare minimum he’s putting out right now. How to get him to push himself to excel continues to mystify me. So, if you’re desperate to get through to a kid with no ambition, give number 1 a go and see if it helps. If you’ve got a suggestion for me on how to get the kid to do more than just the bare minimum after trying number 1, please comment away.