I’ve got this kid….
Let’s call him Jimmy.
Jimmy’s one of those kids. I suspect that he’s got a terrible inferiority complex, because he covers and over-compensates so much that it’s almost comic. Nothing that comes out of the boy’s mouth isn’t a justification for some sort of failure on his part to do what he was supposed to do. He’s never been one (at least, as long as I’ve known him) to ‘fess up and say that he made a mistake. He gloats when he does do what he’s supposed to, and enjoys telling the teachers how “happy” they should be about that. Oh, and he also loves to tell me that I’m wrong. We had a lovely argument discussion just the other day, in fact, about a sentence I’d written on the board.:
“I don’t mean to be rude, Mrs. Chili, but that’s wrong.”
“Really, Jimmy? How so?”
“Well, I can’t give you the grammatical reasons, but I know it sounds wrong. I would never say it that way.”
(after a moment of looking at him with unabashed incredulity, hoping he’d back off of this ledge) “Hmmm. Well, I’d like for you to take a moment, Jimmy, and consider the possibility that you’ve been saying it wrong all this time…“
Anyway, the students were supposed to present a project in class today. The directions for this project were painfully clear and posted in a prominent spot on the website (you know, the one I refer them to every day, but which no one ever seems to remember to check? Yeah; that one). The directions were clear to the point that I told them that written component of this project needed to be printed and out of their computer by the start of class.
Can you see where this is going?
Jimmy had done the work; of this I had absolutely no doubt. The problem, though, was that he could not access that work in a format that would put it in my hands: some complication of software kept him from being able to translate the file to a format that any of the computers at school could read.
He essentially told me that this was not his problem; that he’d done the work and deserved the grade for that portion of the project. My contention was that it was entirely his problem; that not being able to put the work into a format that I could access was analogous to his bringing the wrong set of keys to the parking lot; you’ve got keys, you brought keys, you put forth the effort, but you’re still not going to be able to get into your car and drive away.
He didn’t get it.
I really want this kid to do well; I see a lot of potential in him* and I am genuinely worried that his attitude and behavior, as well as his seemingly unshakable belief that it’s never his fault, is not going to help him to get where he wants to be in the real world. His chosen profession is one where reliability and professionalism are vital; one false move with the wrong gig and he could find himself essentially blacklisted from good jobs for a very long time. I’m wiling to fight with him – I’m willing to let him hate me (and probably call me a bitch under his breath) because I want him to smarten up now, before the consequences for this behavior are a lot higher than a zero on his grade report.
*potential. I remember hating that word as a student. “Chili’s got a lot of potential, but she’s not living up to it, blah, blah, blah.“ I remember thinking, as I contemplated my eventual career as a teacher from the vantage point of an under-achieving high-school student, that I would try to avoid using that word in my own practice. I know now that this is entirely unavoidable. Students DO have a lot of potential that they just can’t see. It is the curse of grown-ups to be able to discern all that wonderful, not-yet-realized energy, and to exhort, with varying degrees of success, the holders of that energy to release it. Sigh…