I have a student who has, for weeks, had trouble getting his work in. I know he has the potential for keeping up, because he did so for the first month of school. Around November, though, he started sliding, and as hard as I've tried to keep him from hitting bottom, he keeps slipping out of my grasp. I learned a few weeks back that Robert's (single) dad had moved a few hours away. (He had to, to take a job as a logger.) Robert's living with his grandma, and while his dad is keeping tabs on his grades via the Internet, he's not at home anymore to help. Robert's attitude has progressively declined; he's become sullen and a little bitter. It's as though he is a little ember in a fireplace, capable of bursting into flame at any moment.
About a month ago, Robert started wrestling practice, and this past weekend was his first scheduled match. It was made clear to him that failing grades would result in his being unable to wrestle in matches; he would have to sit on the sidelines if he didn't get his Language Arts grade up. I figured that would be the motivation to get him going. Unfortunately, he had fallen so far behind that he seemed paralyzed to do anything about it. Night after night, I would make detailed notes in his agenda, telling his family what he had left to do, and day after day, he would come in without it even started.
My heart was sinking, because we (his teachers) all know that if anyone needs to wrestle (to get out some of that pent-up anger), it's Robert. On the surface, he is calm, generally cooperative and respectful, but every now and then, I see a darkness in his eyes, and he can be uncooperative (though in a passive way). He looks at me sometimes like he wishes I would just disappear, get off his back.
Last week, as the "F-list cut-off approached, I called home to remind them, and Robert's grandma told me that his dad had decided that Robert would have to quit wrestling; they were all just tired of fighting with him about the missing work. It was just too hard for her to keep fighting with Robert, especially without his dad here for backup. I talked them into giving it one more day; we'd try to help him (stopping short of doing the work for him), but I really, really wanted to see him get a taste of what it felt to be on the mat in a match. If he could at least make it to his first meet, I had high hopes that it would inspire him to keep his grades up.
By the skin of his teeth, he made the grade.
Today, Robert came into class and announced, "Did you hear the news? I took First Place." He was positively beaming. Our little, angry ember had burst into flames on the mat, beating all three of his opponents in his weight class and winning the event.
From here on out, I'm not going to knock myself out; no more working harder than Robert to make sure he's passing. I'm not sure, but I'm hoping like crazy that that the taste of victory will be enough to carry him through. Let's keep our fingers crossed!