Losing One

A student of mine from last semester came to visit me today.  We’ll call her Missy.

It was nice that she came by.  My composition kids are getting “work periods” as classes at the moment: lessons are pretty much over and I’m giving over the class time for their research projects and portfolios (for which I am expecting – but not with much realistic hope – that their work will be better than it would be if I weren’t giving them this time) so she and I got to talk a bit.

I like Missy, and I liked her when I had her in Foundational English last term.  She’s troubled and searching for her way, but she’s also smart and determined and capable.  She can be great; all she needs is some guidance and people who care about what happens to her.  I think she recognized some of that in me because I was someone she sought out last term to help her work out some of her issues.  I helped her recover her grade in my class, I counseled her in an issue  with her roommate, and she came to me first when she decided to come out publicly as a lesbian.  I bonded with this girl.

She had come to me today to give me some news in person; what she had to say to me couldn’t be fired off in an email, she said; she needed to tell me to my face – she felt she owed it to me.

She’s quitting school.

She explained that her decision to leave was complicated and not entirely of her own choosing.  Her mother pays for her schooling, she said, and her grades have been slipping lately.  Because of this, her mother suggested that she take some “time off” to get herself centered.  Missy is overly fond of her mother and doesn’t want to go against her wishes, even though she’s not sure that she wants to leave school, either.

Missy also told me that her grandmother is ailing and that she feels a responsibility to care for her.  It should be noted here that Missy is not even 19 years old yet; my humble opinion is that the responsibility for caring for an elderly relative should not fall on someone so young – particularly on someone who’s not even figured out who or what she really wants to be yet.

Missy came to me, I think, so that I could give her a hard time about the decision to leave school.  She joked that she KNEW she’d get my “look” and that I’d not let her “get away” with just dropping out.  She wanted me to fight for her – I could sense that in her demeanor – and fight I did.  I argued that while it’s often a good idea for people to take time between high school and college – a lot of people don’t know what they want to study until they’ve had a chance to look around their world for a bit – it’s also very difficult to come back once one has dropped out.  The stresses and demands of the “real” world often keep people from coming back to school; we never have the time or the money to get back to college because the responsibilities we’ve accepted in our lives keep us from sufficiently devoting ourselves to study.  I told her that I was afraid for her, and I meant it.

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We didn’t have the time – or the privacy – to talk in depth about the situation, but we did exchange contact information and I promised her that I wasn’t going to lose touch.  Missy seems to me like a child on the edge of a knife; I feel as though she doesn’t have a lot of leeway to make too many poor choices.  I desperately want to see this girl survive – no, I take that back; I want to see her succeed – because I see in her a strength that will only grow under the right conditions.  At the same time, though, I recognize that I have no control over the decisions she makes.  The best I can do – indeed, the only thing I can do – is to be here for her to rely on when and if she needs me.

Still, that doesn’t feel like enough.

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5 Comments

Filed under concerns, frustrations, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, the good ones

5 responses to “Losing One

  1. Is keeping her toe in the water, by perhaps taking just one class next semester, an option?

  2. She may not only want your “look,” but you are the most qualified person she knows to give her the ammunition: the words she needs to use to speak to her mother. She needs to formulate an argument for staying in school; it needs to be articulate, leakproof, and sound. You can give her those words that she can’t think of on her own.

    We do this on my stepmother board daily. We coach each other on what they can say to their husbands and stepchildren to get their point across. We teach each other to look at our situations from outside the box, to get objective, and then formulate the words.

    She is emotional, she wants to please her mother, and she is dealing with an extreme amount of guilt pressure. The words she needs to speak for herself are not going to come to her until someone helps her look in from the outside, and gives her help on what she can say in a sensitive and non-WWIII inducing way.

    It’s a tough job, but you can do it!

  3. sphyrnatude

    OK, I’ll take a differnt point on this one. Not knowing the full deatils, I’m going to be a bit general..
    My personal opinion that is taht in a case where grades are slipping, and the student can actually acknowledge that fact, a semester or year off is usually a good idea. With a caveat: SOMEONE at school should keep in touch with the student. someone the student has some level of relationship with – ideally someone the student has a lot of trust in.

    I have lobbied for (and used) this methodology with students from freshman to PhD candidate. It is true that the student often does not return to school. In most of those cases, it is because the student has examined his/her life, and determined that school is not right at that particular time (often this is driven by purely financial reasons, but that’s a different topic….). When students DO return, it has been my experience that the time off almost always gets them re-grouped to the point where they can truly succeed in the remainder of their academics.

    I think that part of the reason is that if a student is willing to go through all the hassles of getting back into school, they are demonstrating a level of commitment that most students don’t have. Its pretty easy to get into school when you are leaving high school. In many parts of the country, it is expected, and almost automatic. School councelors, parents, and a slew of other organizations do almost all of the work, and the student simply moves from high school to college/university.

    When a student waits a year, or takes a year off, they almost always have to do the work themselves. If they take a year off between HS and college (and they aren’t simply sponging off mom and dad), they get to see what it is like to try and find a real job and make a living without that degree.

    In both cases, when the student returns to school, they are doing so for a reason – not just because “it is what you do after HS”. Whena person has a reason to do something, they tend to make sure it actually happens…

    I will openly admit that I am an academic elitist – I feel that students that can’t cut it should be allowed to move to a different environment (if they so choose), but that academic institutions should NEVER compromise their standards. Education is a priviledge, not a right.

    In closing, I would say don’t be discouraged if this young woman decides to take a year off. Keep in touch with her, and do what you can to encourage her to return when she feels ready for it. The fact that she feels that she has some responsibility for caring for hr grandmother shows a level of maturity that most people her age lack (even if it is unrealistic for her to care for her gramma, she is at least thinking of someone other than herself…). Often a bit of time off really helps the student to focus.

    Good luck.
    teachers that really care are true diamonds…

  4. *sigh*

    I don’t know what to say. I wish …. ugh.

    I wish things were better. There. That’s what I wish.

  5. This is what I aspire to as a teacher: to called upon to counsel. I want to help kids. I want them to feel they can come to me. I hope I can get there.

    Again, such inspiration.

    Maybe I just need to do this for a while longer. Maybe that’s the key.

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