Monday, March 31, 2008

Beginnings and Ends: The Hardest Parts

I've written a little bit here about how difficult the beginning of my work with a student can be. Basically, it's a bit of a race as we try to quickly figure out what a student needs, how we can fill those needs, the student's current behavior and the consequences of that behavior. So beginnings are often very difficult here. If we can start meeting needs before the student has burned too many bridges, it will be OK. But if we're trying to figure needs as well as do damage control we'll all have a much tougher go of it.

The other most difficult part of my work is fast approaching: the end of my time with a student. In the best case scenario this happens when a student graduates. The problem is that, as I've written before, the high school program here is not a good one. So as we approach the end of the year, I worry more and more about the students who move on.

A student round up:
Math Major should be OK. He's got pretty excellent academic skills- though he's lazy when it comes to writing. He has the occasional kicking and crying fit but these have become more and more rare. If he finds some friends and gets a little adult support, he should be set. If he alienates everyone with his moodiness and temper tantrums, then he'll struggle.

Let's Ride Bikes should also be OK too. He's got solid academic skills paired with very rare behavior issues. But he needs people around him who he knows care about him. Will that happen at high school? And he needs some decent friends who aren't in a behavior program or living in his foster home. He more or less rises or sinks to the level that is set by the people who care about him.

Headache worries me. He's made tremendous progress since he started here last year. In fact, Headache is an out-dated name for him because he doesn't fake headaches any more. But that's largely because he's grown comfortable here and feels safe. Hopefully he gets into the alternative high school that is a bit smaller and friendlier. Either way, it's not going to be easy for him. With his anxiety ramped up next year, I expect he'll take a lot of days off. Unfortunately he doesn't have the academic skill to keep up when he starts missing days. I can see him spiraling down without enough support and his surliness can push people away that might otherwise help him.

Trains! really worries me. He really needs adults to pay attention to him. Last year before he got comfortable here he would wander the halls if he knew I wasn't going to be in class with him. He used to run away from school the year before that. Also, he never does homework and he works at a snail's pace. His academics are solid but he needs at least twice as much time to do any assignment as anyone else. I don't want to expect a lot of failed classes next year's a real possibility. Will someone take the time to sit next to him as he completes his work even though he can do the work on his own? His needs aren't academic- they're personal.

We've more or less figured all of these students out so that they have near zero behavior issues and they're passing all of their classes. They're feeling good about themselves, starting to make friends (besides each other), and really having unprecedented levels of success. And then we let them go. We move on to other students that come up behind them and they move on to figure out a new school with all new teachers and three times as many kids. It's a lesson in letting go.

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