I remember my first interaction with Tom*. Our shadowing period had ended, and I was assigned to his class. He sat, not disrupting anyone, but not doing his work. I pulled my chair beside him and coerced him into completing his warm-up. As Tom wrote on the prompt for the day, he began to open up to me about his academic situation. “Miss,” he began, “I’ve already did this before. This is my second time in the 7th Grade, but they said if I pass all my classes, they will skip me up to the 8th.”
I listened intently. This was not an uncommon story. A lot of my students are overage, and profess the desire to buckle down, turn over a new leaf, and undo the stigma of them being unsuccessful. I went through my usual questions. Tom’s reasons for his lack of committal to his studies ranged from the work being hard and unrelated to life to the work being boring and undesirable to finish.
My mind fashioned an idea. I gave him a sheet of paper and told him to list everything that was holding him back. “Man that will take too much time and paper,” he exclaimed. “So be it,” I answered. “ Just try.” He wrote until he exhausted the topic. At this point, I took the paper, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash. With a stern look, I gazed into his eyes and stated, “Now that all your excuses are gone, you can move forward.”