She got a D-.
Now, if I had gotten a D- in school, I would have been mortified. But for this girl, I think it could have been the Congressional Medal of Honor, as Taylor Mali so eloquently phrased it.
My student (we’ll call her Melissa, since I don’t have anyone with that name this year), has struggled since day one of the term. I’m not exaggerating. If I modeled an example and asked the students to copy it down, she couldn’t. If I explained repeatedly what I expected, she couldn’t do it. I handed work back to her to redo, and it never came back. I asked her what I could do to help her, and she didn’t know.
Almost every assignment I gave in class would come back to me incomplete. To add onto that, it would come back with scribbles and pencil shading all along the margins. It was like a tick. Sometimes she would do it on the desk and not even know it.
She has a low Lexile (reading comprehension) score--around fourth grade level.
Melissa had shown frustration and a lack of motivation to work on assignments, on the rare occasion she did come to class. I tried to help her, and when I came back around to her, she hadn't done anything.
She struggles with pretty basic hygiene. With the dirt under her nails and the greasy hair, plus the smell of smoke from home, it is apparent. Not that people in smoking homes aren’t hygienic—just saying she may not get a lot of encouragement for cleanliness there.
And apparently she’s having a lot of issues at home, so that’s why she’s been absent so much.
A week before the term ended (on a day she was finally at school), I called her in to talk to her and ask if she wanted to try to get a passing grade. I told her it would take a lot of work, and that I couldn’t do it for her. She said she wanted to, but given her track record, I just wasn’t sure that would happen. I didn’t have a lot of faith in her, I guess you could say.
After a couple more absences the following week, I was just about ready to give up on her. I feel guilty for feeling that way.
Because on Thursday, the last day of the term, she walked into my room for remediation time. I hadn’t sent for her (I gave up, remember?). She came on her own. And she sat down, and I walked Melissa through the essay process. She hadn’t even finished a rough draft--due almost three weeks prior. She wasn’t going to get it typed like I had expected. But I would be damned if she wouldn’t make it through that essay—I’d even grade that as her final!
I told her in each step what I wanted her to do. “OK, I need you to give me a sentence about when this happens. Then write your quote.” After she’d done that, I’d say, “Alright, next you need to explain how this quote proves your point about bullying.” I’d walk away and come back a couple minutes later. She’d have almost a half a page of explanation written down! Who was this girl? And where had she been in the first ten weeks of school? To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I let her know I was proud and impressed that she did so well. I’m not saying she dotted her i’s or punctuated very well, and I’m not saying she didn’t write “cuz” about 11 times, even after I told her not to. But she was writing! She was writing! And that is cause for celebration, my friends.
In that half hour of remediation, she did more work for me than she had done all term. She finished that essay. I graded it. Then in class later that day, I had her redo some of her work that she had scored low on. I regraded that.
Melissa had gone from a 42% F to a 62% D-.
When I saw her grade change in front of me, nobody was in my classroom. A huge smile stretched across my face. I felt my face get hot and red with utter joy. There is no other way to phrase it. I was giddy and screeched in a really high voice. I called my mom because I had told her about this student days before, and how I probably couldn’t help her to pass.
But here she was! Passing!
After grading her things, and after I finished squealing with excitement and bouncing in my chair (it’s an ergonomic Gaiam chair), I went and found her in her next class. I informed her that she was no longer failing, that she had a D-, and that I was proud of her! I told her she could definitely do better next term, but that this was a big deal, and I was proud! I must have said it three times.
And in case I needed any more "awesome" to add to this whole experience, when I regraded her journal entries, she wrote that she "actually enjoyed writing the essay!" Let's talk about my full heart!
This is just one student. I don’t know if she’ll remember me in a few years. I don’t know where she’ll end up. But to see that she is capable when she has willing, one-on-one help is just what I needed to see.
And it was a good reminder that we as teachers can still expect great things, even from those who struggle the most. I will continue to do just that.