Leanne is a student in one of my L.U. classes. Since the beginning of the semester, Leanne has been mostly present – as in, in her seat – but never really engaged. She doesn’t volunteer information in class, she’s never been part of the conversations, and she often doesn’t have an answer when I call on her; her strategy is to summarize what the kid who spoke before her just said (I guess that means at least I can be sure she’s listening). She’s always felt to me like she’s just putting in her time.
Leanne bombed the second paper (her first was no shining example of the writing craft, either, but I didn’t expect a lot from the students’ first effort as college kids). Her task was to analyze an issue and discuss three different viewpoints on it – those who agree, those who disagree, and those who agree or disagree, but with conditions. Either Leanne didn’t understand the question or she didn’t bother to do any thinking; her paper was a mismash of quotes and disjointed generalizations. I refused to grade her paper – I didn’t want to give her another failing grade, and I didn’t feel like wasting my time reading what was clearly not standard work.
I kept Leanne after class today and had a good, long chat with her. She freely admitted that she didn’t do the work that she was supposed to. Every time she sat down to write, she claimed, she just came up blank. She didn’t come to me for help because she just couldn’t bring herself to care that much; I think she figured it wouldn’t matter whether she conferenced or not – either way, she was going to do badly. She wasn’t happy with the topic she chose, she didn’t care about the issue, she didn’t seem to care about much.
As we talked, I could sense her starting to ease off of her defenses a little bit – it seemed as though she wanted to talk to me, so I gave her the opportunity. I asked her how her other classes were going; was ours the only one she was struggling with? She hastened to assure me that ours was her favorite class, but that she was failing two other of her courses, too. Do they kick people out for failing two classes? Was she going to fail my class, as well? As she asked me these questions, I started to wonder. I took a chance.
“Leanne,” I asked, “Honey, why are you here?”
She sort of stared at me, deer-in-the-headlights style, for a couple of breaths, and then she gave it to me. It hit me so hard that I remembered every word she said:
“I’m here because it’s what my parents want. If I screw this up, it’ll be my fourth time disappointing them, and I just don’t know if I can live with that.”
Holy shit, you guys; WHAT do I do with THAT?!