One afternoon this week during lunch, one of my algebra 1 students, a junior, stopped by for no apparent reason. I still do not know the purpose of his visit. Yet, we had a nice conversation.
When he first came in he seemed hesitant, as if he wanted to say something. As someone designated as an ELD2, he rarely asked questions in class, and only spoke when I called upon him, and even then, it was very limited.
I told him I was proud of him for passing; I gave him a C, even though he would have received an F if I used the district’s grading scale. He demonstrated to me a borderline below basic to basic understanding of the content we covered first semester, and as I describe in earlier posts, my grading scale is more equitable than the traditional 60-70-80-90 percent scale. Since he impressed me on one series of assessments by raising his score from the equivalent of a D to an A, I gave him the benefit of the doubt in assigning his final grade.
At the same time, as with all of my algebra students who similarly benefited from my benevolent grading scale, I explained that the second semester standards were more challenging than the first semester so they could not relax just because they received a D or a C. While my B and A students likely would not have as difficult of a time, they too are cautioned against taking it easy. The gist of my mantra with all algebra students is “work hard at learning so you can graduate, possibly go on to college or some other continuing education, and live a better life.”
This student must have thought about this since he shared with me that he did not work as hard as he could have last semester, as his 35% classwork grade reflected. He also mentioned, I believe in response to my mantra, that he has a cousin who did well in education and is living a better life for it, and cousins who did not and are living more challenging lives. He seemed very sincere and introspective when telling me his story. He also framed this story as a reason he wanted to do better second semester. I was so pleased he opened up with me. While my school is nowhere near as influenced by gangs as last year, it is still a disease that has spread its tentacles deep into our campus, but in a less obvious fashion. While I do not know if he is close to, or a member of, a gang, he may have to deal with the challenges most Hispanic adolescents in gang-influenced areas face everyday. And knowing this made me appreciate his gesture all the more so.
Prior to finishing our brief conversation, I told him he should share what he told me with his friends and classmates so they could benefit from it. He seemed to consider doing so, but it was not clear if he fully understood my request, or if so, intended to act upon it.
I asked another question which boggles me about many of my students. Did he study or do his homework after school? He mentioned that he does write down the assigned homework. However, by the time he gets home every day, it is neatly tucked away in his backpack and forgotten.
My question is what do you do? He smiled widely and said with all innocence: “you know, just enjoy the day.” He did not need to go into any further description, and I did not need to ask any more questions. I knew completely what he meant. And with that, I needed to end the conversation so I could hurriedly go to the staff lounge to microwave my lunch in the remaining 10 minutes of lunch.
I thanked him for coming by and told him to do so anytime. He smiled again. Said he would, and walked away.
This experience made me reflect upon the cultural differences between the predominantly northern European influenced citizens in the U.S., those who establish the majority of our nation’s mores and values, as well as our education standards, processes, systems, and measures, and the Hispanic, or similar minded, residents like this student, who share a “live in the moment” life view. I must admit that I wonder at times which perspective is best for my children as they find themselves advancing through school, and eventually life on their own. My mind says one thing, and my heart another.