Thursday, June 19, 2014

Contemplating Change and the Student I Couldn't Reach

It’s hard to accept that there are some things in the world that you can not change. Or some things in the world that are not worth trying to change. I used to try to control everything around me, to craft a perfect world that fit exactly what I wanted it to be. Over the course of years though I have come to understand that I can not change everything, and that I should not bother to even try to change everything. Yes, there are things worth fighting for, things worth trying to change, but not everything is a battle to be won. Some moments are about acceptance. 

It is often important to see a person or situation for what it actually is and accept it for what it is, rather than pushing against it to try to change it. One of my friend’s fathers once gave her some sage advice. He told her that when you feel yourself struggling to swim upstream that is the time to consider whether it’s worth continuing in that direction. I think that there is a lot of merit to this idea, especially around the way that I used to approach change. I used to think that moments of resistance were ones to fight through, that the harder the struggle was the more worthwhile the endeavor. But I have learned that oftentimes the result is not worth the effort put into trying to make change.

This afternoon the student who I have been unable to make any progress with this year came into my study hall fifteen minutes late, without a pass, and demanding to go to another classroom. I told him that I would not let him leave the room since he came late and without a pass. He gave me a poorly crafted story to explain where he had been, but I reminded him that I would not let him leave again until I could confirm his flimsy alibi. 

He shouted at me, trying his best to swim upstream against me, protesting that he was “behind” in the class he was in, and that he needed to go there or he would fail. I did my best to remain calm, to be cool water to his struggle against the current. I suggested that since he is in the same situation in my class that he might want to get started on some of the English work that he was missing in the meantime. I suggested that if he needed to he could always and use his lunch time to go to the other class. He turned to me, looked me straight on and told me that it was “pointless” to do any English. Muttering that he was "too far behind to bother".

I recognized that he was challenging me. That he wanted to see what kind of resistance I would put up against him. The old me would have taken on this challenge. The old me would have fired back. The old me would have escalated the situation, even though I know well enough that the end result would have been the same no matter what I did. Nothing would have been accomplished by pushing him, except I would erode my own well being and push us each a little further away from one another and into the corners we have both established for ourselves. 

Instead, the calmer, wiser me, the one who has accepted that I can only change myself and encourage others to change themselves, took hold. Rather than raise my hackles, I instead dug into the calm part of myself. I responded quietly that he “might be right, but that he won’t be able to know without trying”. I then reminded him that he had a choice of how to use his time, but that I still would not be writing him a pass without confirmation of his whereabouts. He stood with his back to me, staring out the window for a while, but eventually he took a chair and a computer. He produced nothing of substance, but he did not fight either- a small victory, but one that I will gladly take in a school year that has gone on too long and is still a week away from ending.

Sometimes, change is about acceptance. It is about seeing a student in the last few days of the year, one who has failed to thrive all year long, and accepting that you can not change them. They are who they are. You are who you are. Your disparate agendas will never mesh, and the best you can do is to do no more harm.      

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