You can't win 'em all

Yesterday was another of our staff development days.  Typically I'm not a huge fan.  Staff development is typically one of those things that sound like a fantastic idea but at the end of the day teachers leave feeling like their soul has been sucked out through their nose.

For the past few staff development days, I've actually been teaching sessions to get out of the rut.  It's slightly better, but I can see glazed looks on participants' faces and I know how they feel.  I try to make things relevant.  And I try to make my attendees understand that I am giving them information that I truly believe that they can take back to their classroom to use, but at the end of the day, I know they feel the same soul suck that I often felt.

However, yesterday was a little different.  My principal bucked trend a little bit and instead of giving us another training on the Nevada performance framework (again), he brought in a motivational speaker who specialized in urban and high-risk youth.  He talked a lot about reaching students where they are, focusing on belief systems instead of behaviors, and giving students new tools to succeed instead of simply telling them their current tools are wrong.  While I don't know how much new information I got out of the session, I did get a lot of reinforcement that many of the things that we have been doing are right.  And sometimes that's what we need.

Our school does things differently.  We try to approach students from a different direction and reach them from a different place.  All of our students have made mistakes.  The wouldn't be at our school if they weren't.  But, we have to live by the philosophy that they aren't bad kids, they've just done bad things.  A lot of people disagree with us.  Our job is to give them the tools to make better choices, to become different people, and when they leave our building they won't have to do those things anymore.

And I would like to say that we are very successful.  But, we are not.  Not only is our recidivism rate high, but we often hear stories of former students that have suffered fates much worse than a return to my classroom.

I wrote last week about the student that was killed in a parking lot.

A few weeks before that, a different student was arrested for beating a man to death in (ironically) another nearby parking lot.  So he, and hundreds like him will spend his best years in jail for crimes of rage and poverty and race.

A large portion of our students never graduate.  They drop out of school before they finish.  It's just after 8pm & I just tried calling the parent of one that's missed a lot of days lately & I fear he's well on his way to dropping out.  He will probably show up tomorrow with some sort of excuse and be in school for a few days before drifting off for another day or two.  He just doesn't like school and can't be motivated to come.

That student and today's story and honestly most of them are all about drugs.

Pick a drug, I have a student addicted or recovering or selling.  Probably all three.  It's a simple fact of the urban and at-risk environment.  Drugs are everywhere.  I would estimate over half of our population comes to us for drug related offenses.  Ironically, drugs are not a behavioral issue.  They are an environmental issue that cannot be solved with a behavior intervention program.  But, that's neither here nor there.

One of my best students last year came to me with a serious drug problem and a lot of depression.  As time went on, and he became more comfortable in his sobriety, he got better.  He wasn't great.  Depression is never "great".  But, he was better.  He stayed with us longer than he needed to because he was doing well and improving.  He was recovering credits, making friends, staying clean, and on the right path.

At the end of the school year, his parents came in and thanked us for all we'd done for him.  They were generally satisfied that he was going the right direction, as were we.  We hoped that he was a success story.

A few days ago, the current student (who has been with me for well over a year) mentions to me that he is still in contact with the former student and the former student isn't doing so well.  I press for a little more information and learn the former student has relapsed, so I reach out via email.  I don't expect much, if any response, but since he completed an online class we'd communicated online in the past and I hoped  he would respond.

After a couple of days I get a line or two saying hello and he's glad to hear from me.  I reply in kind.

This morning I woke up to a second, much longer email that had me in tears.  I won't go into details, but anyone that's ever been a teacher, or seen an episode of "Intervention" can probably imagine some of the things the kid has been dealing with while struggling with a relapse.

These are the type of things that ever teacher grapples with.  And these are the emotions that we should be taught to deal with on a "professional development day".  Fortunately enough, this IS part of what we talked about at my professional development yesterday.  More administrators should take a page from this playbook and allow their staff and faculty the type of development opportunity that will truly help them deal with the day to day of teaching.  Then there wouldn't be the endless Facebook, Twitter, and in person complaints about how soul sucking staff development days are.


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