Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Not Worth My Time

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Tuesday Slice of Life: Not Worth My Time 

"I don't try in this class. It's not worth my time," *Jesse announced to his entire class. My class.

Ouch. 

Did Jesse realize just how much time I spent planning for his class? What about all of the books I've read and conferences I have attended so that I could better meet my students' needs, including his? What about all the money I spent buying books that kids would have good experiences in reading? 

I had to restrain myself not to loudly sigh. I took in several deep breaths. 

All I wanted to do was shut down Jesse's conversation, but instead I asked him some gentle coaching questions, "Tell me more, Jesse. Can you explain more about that comment?" 

"I want to be a welder. I want to build something. I don't need read and writing to do that. I just need to be able to use my hands."

"Oh, I see. How do you think that a welder uses reading or writing?"

Sixteen-year-old Jesse looked at me, his face void of expression.

"I have never welded before. So you might need to tell me if I am completely off. As a welder, don't you need to read blueprints? Interpret them? Don't you need to be able to follow directions so you don't mess up your welds?" I gently inquired.

He nodded. 

"Maybe you can help me understand better how else a welder uses reading and writing. Maybe we can come up with different kind of work for you in reading and writing that incorporates what you want to do with welding." He nodded again.

For the rest of class Jesse was quiet. 

This conversation occurred several weeks ago, but Jesse's comment of "it's not worth my time" keeps spooling in my mind. I have a group of ninth and tenth grade students who need more opportunities to succeed in literacy, but like Jesse, many of them do not want to be in my class. Most of my students have not found the value of literacy yet or the drive to want to do better. Although I have a lot of experience with reading instruction and love working with this age group, it has been a difficult class to teach. I doubt myself all the time. 

Jesse's comment is the kind that keeps me awake at night. I want to give Jesse a learning experience that he cares about and feels is worth his time. I have not returned to this conversation with Jesse yet, but I know that I need to. I would like to figure out a way to help Jesse realize that he will need strong literacy skills in work beyond high school. 

*pseudonym 

4 comments:

  1. I think that you are Jesse's champion and what you said to him was relevant and meaningful. It's challenging to think on the spot like that and justify what we are doing but it's necessary because there are probably a few electricians, chefs, and other non-academic track students in your class.

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  2. The fact that Jesse's comment was heard and acted upon by you and that it stays with you and you keep thinking about how to connect says so much about you as a teacher. These students are lucky to have you. I hope you don't doubt yourself too much or for too long.

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  3. I feel your pain in this post. I've been defensive often when students tell me they don't need reading or writing. They don't know. My grandfather was a prolific reader w/ only an 8th grade education, and he was a master welder. Have you read the book "Shop Craft as Soul Craft"? It's wonderful and a book I've shared w/ young men like your student. There are other books on the value of work; these are books I'd share w/ students who think they don't need reading or writing. I bet you can find some poems, too. "The Forge" comes to mind. In the final analysis, I try to see these student comments as defense mechanisms rather than commentary on reading and writing.

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  4. I think it's that doubt that makes us strive to become better. I think your response to Jesse was brilliant. Good luck!

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