When the Streets Win: A Student, Missed Lessons and The Results of Inaction

Lately I’ve been struggling with my decision to move out of the classroom. I taught HS math and as many math lessons that I taught, I also taught a great deal about life. My kids needed it. I taught in a school sitting in the middle of a largely “czech” town with a student population that resembled anything but that, except for AP classes.

Three years ago, I met a young boy with a glimmer in his eyes that was simply contagious. He was new to our town, kind, gentle and full of life as his laughter and excitement melted your soul. I secretly prayed that he would not lose that spark…that he would somehow avoid the same fateful blow that others before him suffered.

We were losing our boys to our streets…a problem that to this day goes ignored.

Towards the middle of the year, I started to notice changes in this student that didn’t sit well with me. He started hanging with kids who were members of one of our local gangs. He became aggressive and spent time in the office because of his misbehavior in other classes. I reached out to his mother and we had a meetings…several of them. I learned many things about him in those meetings with one point that stuck out big time. In his old school, he was a part of an engineering and robotics club. He had an interest and sadly, we had nothing like that at our school. He was bored out of his mind and the glimmer of the streets was just far too appealing.

He is now 17 years old and a high school drop out.

We failed him…

We expect kids to walk into school and immediately conform with rules that are aimed to train them for a life with no choice. In some cases, kids required to sit all day in their nice desks in rows, were treated as if their “canned education” was  a privilege for the privileged and not for those who could not conform.

Yes, we had a program for kids who needed a flexible schedule to graduate but with the wait list so unmanageably long(largely due to high rates of teen pregnancy)…kids like this student didn’t stand a chance.

Prevention or Pro-Action

I need to repeat again that we had no programs, other than athletic and UIL academic. We didn’t have a solid computer science program. We definitely didn’t have robotics. We did have home economics, wood shop, metal shop, and auto mechanics. We had an art program but not a real media program.

Last year, I was in a high school that had an outreach program for young men which was amazing. We didn’t have that either.

Would any of those things have helped this kid? Would any of these actions have made a difference?

I have to believe that they would have as clearly inaction does nothing.

School should be about challenging kids to imagine what is possible. Beyond standards, schools should be houses of innovation that encourage collaboration, emotional growth and maturity and embed a spirit of a love of learning. We didn’t do that either.

We also have to embed a love of self in our kids. They have to learn that life isn’t always about getting exactly what you want but about making the choice to do what is necessary to make your goals come to life.

I tweeted this earlier…

Opening the doors of the school does nothing if you do nothing to make every kid that walks through those doors experience what is possible.

I imagine that our conversation would have been vastly different if this student’s educational experience would have even been remotely close.


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