Tuesday, September 18, 2007

losing Jerrod

We're into the third week of school and finally I've had a couple of days without any roster changes. The vast majority of these changes are either kids coming in (new students mostly) or kids dropping the class. All four of my classes are at or above 30 students.
And then this afternoon in my French 1 class I notice that Jerrod (not real name) is absent. When I go to the computer to mark him absent, I discover that Jerrod's name is no longer on my roster. This puzzles me greatly since in these first two weeks of the year, Jerrod has established himself as a terrific kid and an enthusiastic student with a penchant for volunteering. Whenever I need a victim or a guinea pig (classroom lingo for "volunteer) Jerrod's hand is always up, ready, willing and smiling. In fact, I've already mentioned him to my wife as one of the feel good stories of the year thus far. I don't know the details but I know that Jerrod has come to La Grande via family connections seeking to get him away from a less than perfect environment out of state. Jerrod is the kind of kid who just exudes heart. Seeing his chair empty and his name missing on my roster put my own heart ill at ease. I went to the guidance office looking for answers.
I started with the secretary, "So what happened to Jerrod? Why isn't he on my roster?"
I could tell from the secretary's expression that she had no idea, but then one of the counselors stuck her head out of her door, her phone pressed against her head but apparently on hold.
"I switched him out of French."
I was dumbfounded and irritated. The counselor, a former teaching colleague now in her first year in the guidance department, held a hand over the phone receiver. I decided to pursue it.
"Why would you do that? He likes French."
"He needed a different math class." The counselor spoke softly obviously alert for someone on the other end of the line.
"Yeah, so?"
"There wasn't one that period."
"But he's doing great in French."
" This is the third math class we've tried with him."
"So you took him out of French." I paused and then realizing that I hadn't really posed a question so much as repeated an absurdity I said, "So what class did you put him in three weeks into the term?"
"We stuck him in Art." With that she gave her full attention to the phone, leaving me speechless and fuming. As I walked through the office and into the photocopy room I ran into another counselor. She did not have Jerrod as one of her responsibilities but I decided to vent anyway.
"So we have a kid enrolled in this school by folks who are hoping that here he can turn things around. Two weeks into the year he is struggling in Math and succeeding in French. So what do we do? We take him out of French and play musical Math classes. And just to make sure he has a chance to earn the right number of credits, we stick him in Art where it doesn't matter if he missed the first two weeks or the first five weeks. Tell me this is better for the kid, tell me that all the successes he's had in my class, all the smiles and high fives he's had with classmates in there, all the good things that come with showing yourself and others that you can in fact learn in a classroom setting, don't count for as a much as playing Russian roulette with math courses."
My colleague listened patiently and then said she'd look into it for me. I believed her but I knew she couldn't necessarily insert herself into her colleague's turf. I thanked her for listening and headed back to the hallway. Classes were changing, and as I made my way upstream through a crowd of kids, I saw Jerrod. He was wearing his blue LHS football jersey. Seeing him triggered in me an almost absurdly nostalgic feeling. When he saw me his head dropped a little. He walked up to me and said almost apologetically, "They changed me out of French, man."
I nodded, I noticed a couple of his French classmates slowing down as they went by. The grapevine had done its work, they already knew why Jerrod had not been in class. I saw one of the girls from the class shake her head as if to say, "Too bad."
"Look Jerrod, I heard all about it. All about math."
He nodded.
"You like French? You want to stay in there?"
He looked at me. He nodded again.
"I can't guarantee anything, but I'm gonna see what I can get done. OK?"
I gave him a pat on his broad back. "OK. We'll see. Hang in there." I watched Jerrod walk away. He was a big kid, strong but sweet tempered. He filled up that jersey. And then it occurred to me suddenly as he plowed further into the crowd of kids streaming to last period that maybe this whole thing had to do with football. Maybe this bureaucratic maneuvering was about eligibility, maybe math was going to keep Jerrod on the sidelines if he didn't get this thing fixed.
I had been angry as hell - never in my 25 years of teaching could I remember fighting to prevent a kid from being changed out of one of my classes. It felt all wrong to me, to see a kid catch fire and then to him summarily removed right on the verge of doing something positively meaningful. But now the outlines of a larger picture began to sift my anger and left me with a residue of sadness. I didn't know what to believe. All I knew was that I had looked forward to French 1 with Jerrod and now, for all intents and purposes, he was gone.


Anonymous annoyed student said...

I'm a student at LHS, but lately I can't stand to go to school. My schedual is completely messed up. Somehow I can't fit enough English classes into my day, therefore I'm being forced to take classes at EOU. Now, honestly, I'm not being forced - but if I don't take them I can't get enough credits to graduate. And somehow in this confusing mess I have to take Modern Problems (a required class for seniors) online, or I can't graduate. Our lovely little school has problems this year...

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Missy said...

This post made me really sad. Please keep us in the loop as much as possible on the sitch. And good for you for pursuing it, Kevin.

10:29 PM  

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