Tom Daly has given me permission to share this with you.
Before you can help your drowning student, you have to be honest and ask yourself some hard questions.
First, look at the relationship you have with this student.
If you're like me, your feelings about this type of student fit either of these two models:
1. The Mutual Truce
2. Mortal Combat
I know you're busy, so let's just look at the first one for now and I'll address the other one in my next email.
THE MUTUAL TRUCE
Okay, so the Mutual Truce is an unspoken agreement between you and the drowning student in which he ignores you and you ignore him. (Or "she" and "her" as the case may be.)
While engaging in the Mutual Truce is not effective or admirable, it's surely understandable. No one can blame teachers for wanting nothing but the most highly motivated and well-behaved students, after all!
But real life delivers us the occasional drowning student, and if you are using the Mutual Truce as a way of dealing with this difficult situation, then at least be honest about it so that we can find a better approach.
How do you know if you're locked into the Mutual Truce?
Well, the Mutual Truce often looks like this:
> You don't really demand much out of this student, except passive compliance to most classroom rules.
> The one classroom rule you don't really enforce for this student is, "Do your best work."
> This student doesn't produce much work, but he or she doesn't embarrass you either.
> The student goes through the motions of being a student without disrupting the class.
> His parents may not complain, nor do they blame you for his lack of effort. Indeed, they may not even be aware of the situation.
> You haven't called the parents to discuss this. So, in a way, you also have a Mutual Truce with the student's parents, too. You send home his three-week progress reports, just like you do for the other students, and on those reports you indicate that he may fail the class and that they are invited to come into the school any
time . . . but you know they won't come in.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be locked into a Mutual Truce with your drowning student.
As I've said, this is understandable, but if we're going to fulfill our most meaningful purpose as teachers, we have to come up with a more effective strategy.
THE FIRST STEP . . .
Believe it or not, simply being aware that you are locked into a Mutual Truce is the first step in overcoming it.
The Mutual Truce is a sneaky dynamic that easily slips under our conscious radar. It's easy to write it off with ready-made explanations. Rationalizations such as:
"He's a good kid - he'll turn it around soon."
"There's not much more I can do, really."
"At least he's not bothering the other kids."
If you find yourself saying things like this, it might be time to reexamine your approach with this student.
In my next email, I'll go into the "Mortal Combat" scenario and offer some helpful suggestions.