There’s One Every Term…

…It may be true that there’s one in every class, but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about it.

I’ve got a boy in my CHS class who, I think, is going to pose a substantial challenge for me.

Carrie warned me about Andy.  “He’s smart,” she told me, “but he HATES to write.”  In fact, she was surprised that I managed to get a piece of writing out of him in the very first day; it was a truly insubstantial answer to the prompt, but it was in his own hand, and that was something that Carrie wasn’t expecting.

Andy failed to turn in either of the in-class writing exercises we did on Thursday.  These are counted as part of the students’ participation grades and, while they don’t count for much (I don’t edit them or require that they be revised, and they don’t get a letter grade – the students either do them and get full credit, or don’t), they do count.

In an effort to head this kid off at the proverbial pass, I’m extending him an offer of compassionate assistance.  I’m not going to come down on him for not writing; instead, I’m going to ask him to tell me (in writing – aren’t I crafty?) what it is about writing that he finds so distasteful, and what I can do to help him past that particular block.

I transcribed the letter to an email for Carrie, just so we’ve got a record of my efforts to reach this kid, to meet him halfway, and to give him the opportunity to help himself, though me, to pass the class.

Wish me luck.

Dear Andy,

I’m getting the impression that you’re reluctant to write; I noticed that you didn’t turn in either of the in-class writing exercises we did on Thursday.

On the first day of class, you wrote that one of your goals was “to pass this class without struggling.”  Something you’ll need to reach that goal is to practice writing every day.  That writing doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact, it doesn’t even have to be GOOD at first – but you won’t find writing getting any easier (or better) if you don’t practice.

I’ll make you an offer: I’ll not count those in-class writes against your grade if you’ll write four paragraphs about why you’re so resistant to writing.  Tell me what about it scares or frustrates you.  Tell me what experiences you’ve had that discourage your writing now.  Tell me what I can help you do – what I can teach you or what conditions I can help you create – that might make you more willing to write.

I want you to do well in this class, but I can’t do it for you.  You need to be willing to do the work and to demonstrate your abilities.  I’ll do my best to give you the things you need to do that, but you need to be willing to work, too.


Mrs. Chili



Filed under about writing, compassion and cooperation, concerns, I love my boss, Teaching

9 responses to “There’s One Every Term…

  1. Chili, YOU RULE. Seriously. 😀

  2. Many of my alternative high school boys don’t like to write because they find it physically laborious… and slow and sloppy. Nearly all of them like typing over writing if given the opportunity.

    I hope is he is able to honestly articulate what he needs from you. Some never can. Some don’t know. And some are just unmotivated.

    Best of luck.

  3. You are such a great teacher. My first inclination would be to let him suffer the consequences of his resistance — there are 43 other students that are trying and need my help to have me devote time to someone who doesn’t give a damn. Reading your letter to him, however, makes me re-think the approach I would take if I encounter someone like him. You rock!

  4. Clix, thanks. I want be THAT kind of teacher.

    Clair, I do wonder whether this boy even has the capacity to articulate what it is about writing that puts him off. He may not be able to, and if that’s the case, I’m going to have to talk to my director about what, exactly, she wants me to do. My understanding of my mission for this class was that I’m to prepare them to be ready to take my 401 class at the University. If Andy refuses to write, he won’t be prepared.

    Dingo, don’t think I’m all that – MY first instinct is to write him off, too. Kids, it’s a WRITING CLASS. Right there in the course description, it says that this is a writing intensive class. As a society, we’ve decided that some facility with writing is required for one to complete our compulsory education. Fake it ’till you make it, grit your teeth and do it, figure out SOME way to get through it.

    That being said, like I said to Clix, I want to be THAT kind of teacher. It’s not a huge deal for me to go a little out of my way to help this kid; he’s one of 14 and, as far as I can tell, will be the only one who’s going to really need special attention (well, I haven’t mentioned my foreign exchange kid and, to be fair, I really haven’t figured them ALL out yet, but still…).

  5. I’ve got to echo Dingo, here.

  6. Suzanne

    It sounds like there might be some kind of block that he has, and asking him to write four paragraphs may not be the best method to get the information you need. Does he have an IEP or 504? How are his verbal skills? It sounds like the director knows him pretty well — is this a behavioral issue or an academic one? If he doesn’t respond in writing to your request, perhaps asking him to verbally explain his reasons for avoiding writing will get a response. Is there an alternative way you can allow him to express himself, perhaps that connects to his chosen artistic path? Perhaps you can use that to jump start his desire to write.

  7. Thanks, Falcon.

    Suzanne, I thought of that – asking a kid who hates writing to write to me to explain why he hates writing; don’t think I didn’t see the irony in that – but I thought I’d use that as my first shot. If he resists that, I’ll have to look into alternate ways of reaching him.

    The thing is, I DON’T know if he’s got any special needs (an IEP or a 504); no one’s mentioned anything about it, so I’m going on the “no news is good news” philosophy here. It’s certainly something I’ll look into, but Carrie only said “he doesn’t write,” not “he has an IEP that lets him prove mastery in ways other than writing.”

    I have to talk to Carrie about whether or not he CAN use other skills to demonstrate mastery in my class. I was hired SPECIFICALLY for my skills as a writing instructor, though, so I’m betting that Andy’s going to have to figure out a way to hate writing a little less in order to pass my class. I’m willing to meet him quite a bit on his side of halfway, but he’s got to prove to me that he’ll make it worth my trip.

  8. Definitely a great teacher, you are. This is why I work with Honors kids – I tell them from the first day that it’s their job to get the work done and if they don’t, they fail. After that, all I do is keep records about whether or not they did the work, including giving 0’s where appropriate. I’m mean that way.

  9. gerry rosser

    “to pass this class without struggling”

    Does he really mean “pass this class without effort?”

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