Sunday, November 8, 2009

a success story; or, what happens when you believe in dreams (even the silly ones)

I have changed a student's life. I know, that sounds grandiose and perhaps a little exaggerated, but really, this time it is true.  As a teacher, I get my share of students who don't want to be there. They may not want to be in college, in english class, in MY english class, or just there, but whatever the geography of their disenchantment, they make it clear through a thousand signs that they do not want to be there.

Jose* was one of those. He sat in the back of the room, against the wall, as far away from me as he possibly could. He stared at the floor, out the window, at his books; he looked anywhere but at me. In the very brief moments that I could force his attention, I liked him. He seemed smart and funny, but totally disengaged, even a little bit afraid of me. He turned in little or no work and when he did turn in something it was late and wrong. Finally, after several weeks of trying to engage him, I scheduled a mandatory appointment.

He looked panicked when I told him I wanted to meet with him. He tried to get out of it and promised he would work harder and made all the promises and excuses that students make when they want to get out of something. I remained firm. Sometimes, they just don't show up and then you have to keep badgering them, thankfully, Jose did show up.

I was prepared to ask him the questions that I always ask students. How are you? How are you doing in your other classes? What is your major your career? Why are you in school? Where do you want to transfer?... etc etc.  But, he didn't let me get that far. He said "Can I tell you something?" I assured him he could, and then he said the thing that I think all students feel in this situation, but that so few of them say. He said "I'm really scared right now."  And just like that we began to talk. He didn't want to go to college, he wanted to move to Hollywood and work in the entertainment industry. He had secretly applied for jobs at TMZ and Entertainment Weekly. His family and friends made fun of his desire to be in show business and told him to forget about it and that he had to go to school. Yes, when he said he wanted to be the "next Ryan Seacrest" it was very tempting to laugh, and I am sure that he has been laughed at before, and often, for his dreams.

But I didn't laugh. Instead I talked to him about how to use school to get to Hollywood. I talked about needing to write well, and having the credentials to put on his application, I encouraged him to take drama classes, write for the school paper, and to apply for internships in local media.

Right then, in a matter of minutes, I watched him transform. From scared and unsure to boisterous and excited.  Now, he is a top student in my class. He has begun talking to local radio stations about summer internships, he has started his own entertainment blog. He turns in work early and asks for feedback, and quite frankly, I can't get him to shut up in class. It is amazing. Will he be the next Ryan Seacrest? Who knows. But, I am pretty sure that he will transfer to a four year school, and that he will get a degree that prepares him to work in the entertainment industry at some level. And that is a long long way from the kid who was secretly trying to move to LA and who wouldn't look me in the eye.

*name changed for privacy


  1. Way to go, Kat! And, best of luck to your student!

  2. I'm sure Jose will always remember that meeting as the one that started him down his path. Good job.

  3. Wow, what an awesome story. I'm so happy for Jose...and for you!

    I wanted to let you know I'm giving you the One-Minute Writing of the Day award for your response to Saturday's prompt. Congrats!

    -C. Beth
    The One-Minute Writer

  4. I thought about you today. One of my students stayed after our CH discussion. He sat across from me and told me that he feels like he's coming unraveled. He said that so much is going on in his life and he is losing faith. (He's being deployed early to Afghanistan -- Dec. 1, so there goes school -- and he recently got in contact w/his birth mother, who he's met for the first time in 21 years, etc.) He asked if I had any words of wisdom. He wasn't asking about school, but about life. I felt at such a loss. I didn't know what to say. I know I'm not a counselor, but I feel that I should have been able to help him out, make him feel better about things. Instead, I just told him some things that are going on in my life, and how I'm working through them, and that sometimes that's what we have to do -- do what we think is best and take it day by day. But I felt my answer was so weak, and I thought that had this happened to you, your student would have walked away with something much more useful to go by...

  5. Brandi--In the face of such trials, I cannot even imagine what to say. But, I do think that the comfort isn't in your words, or even how you say them. It is just that you were present for that student,that you were there to say them.

  6. It feels great when we know we positively influence someone that feels bad, and we actually help! It's even better to see a person change, become better, and to know we helped make that happen!

    I have a friend that has a health problem, and is very depressed, because she has to use a crutch to be able to walk. I am trying to cheer her up as best as I can, but it's tough, because she autosabotages herself... I think that when I finally help her,I will feel truly gratified. =)

    Cool blog, I'm adding you to my faves.