Just Rip My Heart Out, Kid

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?!

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13 Comments

Filed under compassion and cooperation, concerns, failure, Questions, Teaching, Yikes!

13 responses to “Just Rip My Heart Out, Kid

  1. Oh, my goodness. What DO you say? Part of me would want to point out that she needs to figure out whether or not she disappoints herself.

    How did it end up? Did you say anything? That poor kid. Thank goodness she has you.

  2. Cupcake, it’s KILLING me.

    I told her that, while I understood that she wants to make her parents proud, she really can’t expect to live her life for anyone else and be happy about it. I told her that she might want to consider taking some time to think about what SHE wants, and to consider that it may just be that her parents are looking for her to get herself invested in something that makes HER happy. “Speaking as a mother,” I said, “I want my girls to find what brings them joy. I’m not interested in dictating their lives, and maybe your parents are just waiting for you to figure out what you REALLY want.”

    I’m not concerned that the girl will hurt herself…. now… but the thought of depression crossed my mind. If she’s measuring herself – at 18 – against her perception of what her parents (or anyone else) thinks of her – and finding herself lacking at 18 – then I don’t think it’s much of a leap to see that trouble is in her immediate future. I AM going to go to health services, though, just to give them a heads-up. She laid some pretty heavy shit down tonight, and I wonder if that pried open a floodgate for her…

  3. Find her a good therapist and talk to her advisor. That’s what I would do.

  4. At that age it’s so hard to realize that you have to do what makes you happy and what you feel is best for your life. On one hand you have people who have life experience telling you what’s “best” for you, on the other hand, you have no idea what you want, or if you know what you want you are not sure how to get it.

    I think you did the right thing. I wish there were more teachers like you out there.

  5. I tried junior college right out of high school and was miserable. Fortunately, I had a great English teacher pull me aside one day to have a chat. She told me that even though she knew that I was bright, she could tell that college wasn’t for me at that time. She also said that I should take some time off from school to discover what I wanted out of life.

    It was one of the greatest pieces of advice that I ever received from anyone. When I returned to school at the age of 27, the mom of two, I had lived life a bit and knew that my education was for me. I appreciated it much more than I ever could have if I had forced myself when I was younger.

  6. I think you told her exactly what she needed to hear. I had two students (both girls) try to hurt themselves last year, both by pills. One wound up in the hospital, the other spent a few hours in the E.R. It’s very, very scary. Letting Health Services in on it is very important. What are the guidance counselors like at your school? Are they a good resource? My girls didn’t like our counselors, but they were able to talk to the school psychologist, thank goodness.

    Good luck, and please keep us posted on the poor girl. I feel for her – and you!

  7. I think you do what Auntie said and you tell her the truth. She IS going to disappoint them again because she is going to fail your class and probably the only way to avoid that is to find a reason of her own to be there so she can be working toward something she loves.

  8. I tell such students that learning is not a spectator sport; it is a process of ownership.

  9. Yeah, that’s a tough one.

    Actually, no, the answer is easy. “You’re here for the wrong reason, then, kid.”

    The hard part is telling her that. Or, perhaps even harder, is you or her telling her parents that.

  10. Dudley

    If she was truly motivated by their potential dissapointment, she would find the will to succeed in your class.

    I think what bothers her is a perception, or maybe the reality, that her parents will be disappointed in her if she deviates from what they want her to do.

    It sounds as though they have a plan for their daughter, and they won’t be happy unless she fulfills their wishes.

    She wants them to be happy for her, and to be happy with her choices. It sounds like she thinks that those two things are incompatible.

  11. theycallmemrteacher

    Too bad she doesn’t have parents like mine. When I dropped out of college after two years, they didn’t remonstrate. They waited. After a nine-year hiatus, I finally went back to school–and my parents rejoiced.

    But this kid? As some of your other readers say, she needs a good therapist.

  12. Laurie B

    BEW teaches at local U but spends a fair amount of time teaching in a two year program. Some of the kids know why they are here and get the most out of the program. The remainder of students just have no clue and are here because they folks “want” them to go to college.

    Generally, eighteen year olds have no idea where life might be leading them. It’s so sad that both parent and student expect to have an answer right now.

    It’d be hard for an eighteen year old to do but the question really would be, “Why are her parents disappointing her?” Are they listening at all?

    Auntie is right, there’s more here than you can handle on your own but you were a safe place for her to start thinking about some changes.

    Thanks for hearing instead of just listening.

  13. Thank God for school counselors.
    THey are my back up for situations like that.

    Once had a crying student (I hate tears). I asked why the tears and she blurted out “I got drunk this weekend and had sex with Ray.”
    Remember, I teach 8th grade.
    Counselors save me on days like that.

    Good luck i wish I knew what to tell you.

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