Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Seven Essays of a Highly Inefficient Procrastinator

It's September, and school has started up again.  My boys have left the Quaker Local School behind them and returned to public school for their last two years of secondary education.

And here's a story about that transition.

Where J-son has been our child of many spectacular stories because of his impulse control issues, N-son tends to err more on the side of procrastination.  J-son has excelled in sins of commission (if you will), while N-son has taken on the sins of omission.  So we sort of have to watch him and nag him about getting out there, doing things, instead of just sitting around at home playing on his phone.

Last spring, we got an email near the end of the school year from N-son's Bible teacher. Each of the kids in the class was supposed to do a project:  J-son chose to attempt 2-day fast (he lasted 15 hours, but he tried).  N-son, the teacher told us, had promised he would volunteer at the soup kitchen in the homeless shelter that I volunteer at.

Did I mention that this was near the end of the school year?  In fact, there were exactly four school days left at that point, and we hadn't heard a peep out of N-son about any volunteer project.  We quickly got him signed up for a 2-hour volunteer shift on Tuesday afternoon, right after school. He and I biked there together and did the shift together, with me taking on the new-to-me role of washing dishes, and with N-son helping to bus tables and hand out doughnuts.

When we got home, I asked him, "Do you need to write some kind of essay about this?"  After all, I'm a teacher; I know that doing isn't enough for learning; reflection is part of the process, too.  N-son admitted that yes, he was supposed to write an essay and that he'd do it and turn it in the next day.

So Wednesday after school, I double-checked:  Did you write the essay?  Did you turn it in?  Yes and yes, he assured me.

But my husband was dubious.  So Thursday he asked N-son yet again:  Did you do the essay?  Did you give it to your teacher?  Did you actually put the essay into his hands?  N-son repeatedly assured us the essay had been done, adding details:  he did it with Ms. C, his learning support teacher.  He gave it to Mr. S, his bible teacher, in person.

And then Friday, we got another note from Mr. S:  N-son hasn't turned in his volunteer essay.  What should I do?   We called Ms. C, who told us, We asked N-son about the essay, and he said he did it at home.

We told Mr. S he should just fail the kid.  Not only didn't he do the work, but he repeatedly, deliberately lied about it.  We also told N-son that this was the end of the Quaker Local School -- we had made it clear that we were working hard to pay for them to go there, but we weren't willing to do that if they weren't going to work hard also.  So the school was over.

But that's not the end of the story.  Mr. S told us he'd like to give N-son one more chance to do the project late, albeit for reduced credit.  He gave us the complete assignment: it turns out, N-son was supposed to do four hours of service, and to interview at least one person, and to relate the service to specific bible topics.

At this point, because N-son's work-avoidance had created so much more work for all the adults around him, I decided it ought to create more work for him, too.  So I told him that not only was he going to write this essay for Mr. S, but he was going to write essays seven times this summer, one for each time he'd lied to us or his teachers.  You said you did the work, so you'll actually do it.

N-son passed the class with a D-, which was super-generous on the part of Mr. S.   (Or was it?  Mr. S had at one point confided to my husband, "I really like N-son, but I really don't want him in my class again next year.")

But even more, N-son started volunteering regularly -- about 20 hours a week -- at the soup kitchen.  One of the cooks -- a big dude named Calvin with skin darker than N-son's and a lot of experience with wayward youth -- took N-son under his wing.  And N-son, in return, glommed onto Calvin.  He came home talking about making mac-n-cheese from scratch, learning to cut fruit quickly, the importance of no-skid shoes, the proper technique for mopping (or "moping", as he spelled it).  He interviewed the cooks about what it had been like to be homeless, and he heard story after story of wanting to make amends, to give back, to make the most of their second chances.

When it was time to start signing up for classes at the public school, N-son had to make choices about which "Small Learning Communities" to join, and he asked for the "Public Service" community.  When the school talked about sending kids out on internships in the future, N-son put himself on the waiting list for "Culinary Arts".  And he promised Calvin and the other cooks that, even though his essays are done (so he doesn't have to volunteer anymore), and even though school has started (so he has much less available time), he still plans to go back on weekends to chop food, wash dishes, and mope the floors.

I collected up all the essays and made two additional copies.  One copy, I gave to the soup kitchen for their records; the staff there seemed to love seeing themselves through this young kid's eyes.  The other copy, I attached to a cover note that had a large helping of thank yous, along with a "we never know what effect we'll have on our students" message, and sent it off to Mr. S.   He's beginning another round of his own school year, with another set of students who will take on projects in his class.  I wish them all -- and all the students and teachers who are starting this new year -- the very best.  And if these students or their teachers get second chances, I hope they learn to make the most of that spectacular, wonderful gift.

1 comment:

  1. Love it all! "Moping" can be so healing.
    One on my son's first words was "Mop, mop!!!"
    Unfortunately the initial enthusiasm wore off.