Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It’s Not That Bad”


When a normally conscientious student lets the end of the quarter arrive with a failing (or barely passing) average because of missing work, it doesn’t take a lot of insight to realize that something is wrong.  I had two such students in my room today, doing after-the-last-minute make-up work.

I could easily have told both of them that it was too late–the deadline had come and gone and they had missed it.  In fact, I wouldn’t have needed to tell them because neither of them had asked.   The reason they ended up in my room today was because I told both of them that their grades were unacceptable and that they needed to come to my room today after school to fix this.

One of them had started on Friday to make up the test he had missed because of a string of absences.  But when I asked him about the lab (and corresponding lab report) that he also owed, and told him that the quarter was ending and that he had to make up the lab that day, he had a stress reaction that was bad enough that he needed to go to the nurse.  When he got back, I told him that I wasn’t in the habit of torturing my students, and that he needed to come in Monday (today) after school instead.

The other student had been silently ignoring the problem.  When I saw her in the cafeteria today, I asked her if she had any of the missing work to give to me.  When she answered in the negative, I told her that she also needed to come to my room today to finish.

Here are some snippets of conversation from the 90 minutes after school today:

While student #1 was working on the lab experiment, I gave student #2 enough help to be able to take and pass the quiz that she had missed.  In the process, I asked her whether she was struggling in any of her other classes.  She looked away and replied, “Let’s just concentrate on physics.”

I responded, “What’s important to me right now is you, not physics.  But we can stick to physics, at least for now.”

Later, as she had joined Student #1 working on the lab experiment, she said to me “I’m sorry I didn’t make this up sooner.  I tried, but I just couldn’t.”

“This sounds a lot like symptoms of depression.”

“Oh, no.  I was really depressed before.  This is not nearly that bad.”

“Depression is one of those things that you can never decide that you’re free from.  It hides around corners waiting to pounce on you.  It’s really dangerous to wait until it gets bad to do something about it.  If you do that, there’s too much of a chance that things could get bad again.  It’s much easier to counteract it if you catch it early.”

“I’ll be OK.”

“Probably.  But all the same, I’m going to drag you in here if you’re in danger of falling behind again.”

“No teacher has ever done that for me before.”

“Then it’s about time one of us did.  Would it help if I check with you about your other classes too, and drag you in if you need a little help keeping up with them?”

“I’d like that.”

Later, as they were working on the lab, I mentioned to Student #1, “I’m glad this is making more sense now.  I’m hoping we can keep up with the make-up work a little sooner this quarter.  I don’t want to see you fall behind and struggle so much.”

“It’s OK.  I’ll work harder this quarter.”

“That’s a dangerous thing to say.  I’m sure you didn’t consciously decide to not work hard this quarter.  And now, if you can’t manage to work harder next quarter, you’ve set yourself up to be mad at yourself.  When you turn that anger inward on yourself, it can amplify any depression that’s already starting to set in and send you into a downward spiral.  Instead of promising to work harder, I want you to promise that you’ll watch more closely for signs of depression trying to gain a foothold, and that you’ll ask for help if you need it.  I’m going to be watching you closely–both of you actually (indicating Student #2)–and I’ll intervene if it looks like either of you needs it.”

I have a little extra grading to do this evening, but it’s worth it.

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