Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Wake-Up Call to Life

All too often it is the final weeks of school when there are moments I long to remember as being extra-special. One such occasion occurred at the end of May during late afternoon when I sat alone at my desk and looked up to find a young man peering down at me. His face was one I remember from Sept 2012 when I found a silly, immature group of freshmen students inhabiting my locale on the first day of school. Tim (not his real name) was not only silly and immature, but suffered from attention deficit disorder. He was often cooperative in class, but could never complete any assignments, even when they were written down and provided days in advance. This was my first semester of teaching and I often went out of my way in communicating with parents as to celebrations of achievement or concerns for failing grades Tim was one of those students who never got to second base, failing tests without any regards for the consequences. Despite several phone calls and letters to home, I was never able to roust a response from either of his parents, much less his guidance counselor. I felt as if I was flying solo on all fronts, and as a result Tim earned the first "F" in my short career as an educator. At the end of January 2013 I felt I let him down, somehow thinking that a different outcome was possible had I taken immediate action on the first day of class. Over the next three-plus years I moved on from Tim's failure, making him a distant memory in favor of students who demonstrated greater concern for their studies. But memories quickly return from the abyss when that individual suddenly appeared in front of me.

"Hey there, Mr. D! If you have some time I'm in need of a little help." It was Tuesday afternoon and represented my final day overseeing our department's ELO (Extended Learning Opportunity). As it is with many of the students who pop in after school, I put everything aside and provided Tim with my immediate attention. When we finished reviewing his material, I couldn't resist the opportunity to inquire about life over the past few years. He explained how he was cramming for a makeup test in another social studies class that would determine whether he'd graduate with his class. Tim opened up about wishing he could return to my classroom for that first day of school when I attempted to grab his attention. "I should have listened to you as it would have made my life so much easier. My dad told me I need to graduate from high school if I expect to attend MPTC in the fall. Everything's on the line with this test and I can't afford to fail it." His tone was serious in every way and I sensed it was one minute before midnight in his young life.

A few days later it was graduation day at BDHS and I looked forward to seeing Tim make the walk with 225 other classmates. The gymnasium was packed to capacity on a warm Sunday afternoon, and the procession of soon-to-be-grads was impressive from start to finish. This group represented my first batch of freshmen and they were somewhat special to me. During their tenure of high school I watched many of them grow in maturity and stature. However, missing from their ranks was Tim and I quickly grabbed my program in search for his name. There was no trace of him upon the list and I later found out that he fell short in his run to the finish line. There was a pit of disappointment in my stomach that day, much like it was a few years earlier. When students fail a class, they rob themselves of opportunities later in life. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from our falls...and hopefully Tim will learn much from his mistakes.