Monday, November 3, 2008

open letter to a past high school student of mine

(this is from the book of advice for new teachers i'm working on with my buddy All-Star.)

Dear Student That I Failed,

This is Mr. Scaccia. You probably don’t remember me. I was your English teacher a few years back. I was the one who dealt with your outbursts in class by docking you one point off your final grade each time. Even though you have A-level intelligence, you ended up with a low-level C in my class.

I want to say that I’m sorry. I failed you. My teaching was mediocre at best, so I failed you in that sense. But that isn’t why I am apologizing. I was a new teacher and I was trying my best. Teaching is a craft that takes years to master, so I don’t blame myself for bad pedagogy.
I failed you in a much worse way than that. Clearly, there was something going on in your life beyond your control. That’s why you would shout in class. It is why you would not turn in assignments and act like you didn’t care. It is why you would tease the slow students. But rather than get to the root of your problems, I addressed the symptoms with my juvenile point system. I chose to deal with the surface of the problem- discipline- and ignore the deeper issues inside you.

I apologize for not calling your parents. I apologize for never setting up an appointment with the guidance counselor. I apologize for never keeping you after class to ask, Hey buddy, what’s up?

I apologize for being afraid of the pain that lay just below the surface of your outbursts. I am sorry that I was too much of a coward to learn if you weren’t getting enough attention at home, or if one of your parents was an alcoholic, or had cancer, or if you were being abused.

The worst part for me, Student That I Failed, is that I went into teaching to help, maybe even save, kids like you. Sure, I believe that teaching my subject matter is important, but I became a teacher to be the one adult who did ask you what the real issues are. To be the one who did bother to intervene. To be the one that changed your life forever.

I could give you a laundry list of excuses, Student That I Failed. I was overwhelmed. You intimidated me. I wasn’t sure what the appropriate boundaries were. Was I allowed into your life? Did you even want me there? Might I have been making things worse by meddling?
Now I know better, Student That I Failed, and I apologize. People talk about the system failing students. But there is no ‘system.’ There is an inter-connected web of people like me- parents, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches- and we make the combined choice to save or fail a student. And sometimes, maybe with you, we all choose to fail.

I know this apology cannot undo what I have done. All I can do is try to do better with the next student who cries out for help.

I promise you, Student That I Failed, I will do all in my power to never have to write one of these letters again.

With love,
Jesse “Mr.” Scaccia


Angela James said...

lovely. good teacher man.

Anonymous said...

Why not ask the "bad" student to take some ownership of his/her behavior in class? How does it help a student to learn that acting out (justified or not) will enable them to receive special treatment? Learning the consequences of allowing personal baggage to affect performance in the workplace (classroom) is an invaluable lesson. Bravo Jesser!
In hoc.