Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sid From Santa Fe Is Thankful For Them All.

I've watched with gentle bemusement the affairs of the past couple of days. And I've read a ton of articles by professors who teach at places far better than where I am, the worst community college in America. (I say it all the time; it doesn't mean it's not true.) My students profoundly disappoint me on an hour by hour basis. I bitch and moan to my friends and family. 80% absolutely do not want to be there. About 40% never buy a book. A full 50% fail my intro class every single term. (And I often see them the next semester as well since I'm one of only a few people who teach this particular class. They rarely have picked up any steam since I saw them last.)

So I bitch and I vent, and it helps. It clears some of the fog of a job that I confess depresses the shit out of me. And as I read these various articles the past couple of days I felt even worse about myself and my situation.

But of course we all have our own misery with students, no matter the institution: some won't staple, some won't read, some won't show up. I guess the super-powerful professors at the top level schools have problems of their own. I don't know what they are, but I respect that they exist.

But my own situation came into relief today when a large hulking student - who I'd not seen in 2 weeks - appeared at my cubicle just before class. He stood in my entryway, his broad shoulders blocking out nearly all the light in my little, despair-filled space.

"Uh, Mr. Sid. I don't know if you remember me. I'm Jonah from your 9 am class."

I did remember him, but just because of his size. He's a giant, a smiling, shuffling giant who never said a word during the classes he did attend.

"I figured you'd dropped, Jonah," I said, and he hung his head.

"I hate to bother you with this," he said, "but I'd appreciate a chance to continue in class. I really want to stay in and get better but I know I missed too much."

Now, at this point, depending on the student, I have a ton of things I can do. But I left it mostly in his hands.

"Are you going to be able to make the class a priority until May," I said. "Because it seems that you've not been able to so far."

"Yes, Mr. Sid. I told my pop I would and I'm telling you."

"That's all I need," I said, and when I stood up he reached his car door sized hand out and we shook.

I walked him to the front of the office and when we got to the main hallway I asked, "So what was up? What kept you from class."

"Oh, I hate to admit it, but I have a drinking problem and I've been in lockup in Utah for 2 weeks."

He shook his head, disgusted with himself and embarrassed. I felt like a heel for asking.

"But I got a second chance, Mr. Sid. And you've given it to me."

And then he was gone.

I'm going to do everything in my power to help that kid get through this sorrowful intro class. I don't know if he's capable. I don't know if I'm capable. But if he'll try, so will I. It won't make my school any better. It may not help him in the long run. He may be locked up again next week. Maybe a bus will hit me. A million things can stop us.

But maybe not; maybe we'll make it.


  1. Good for you. I admire you patience and dedication.

    Good for Jonah. I hope he cleans up and turns into a good student. It does happen. Sometimes it takes something major, such as a stint in the military, or working a really hard job full-time for long time, or a change of environment. Maybe his recent misadventure will be it? Let's hope so.

    It helped that Jonah was civil, humble, and honest, didn't it? If he'd instead whined loudly in the manner of a very young child, or if he'd transparently lied to me, or if he'd tried to be manipulative, or had threatened to take it to the dean, my hand would have reflexively found its way to my STAPLE GUN. (Twitch! TWITCH!!!) Between his physical size and my exasperation, what might have ensued might not have been pleasant.

  2. It's for these stories that I keep coming back. If a kid can win over Santa Fe Sid, then I know all is not lost!!! Good for you, Sid. Help the kid in the classroom and see where it takes you both.

  3. This will be the best thing I read all day. Thanks for sharing it. Good luck to you and Jonah.

  4. Jonah sounds like a pretty decent guy, and so does his Pop, and so do you, Sid. And you've all embraced the basic idea that the point is not to avoid mistakes, but, when we make them, to take responsibility and learn from them. Whatever grade he ends up with in your class, I suspect Jonah is going to do okay in life, and your reaction to his stepping up and initiating a conversation with you is going to be one small but significant part of that process. I don't even think asking what happened was a mistake; this way, he knows that you know what mistake he made, and think he's handling it okay. That reinforces the message that his Pop apparently sent about how you deal with such situations, and lets him move forward without worrying that you'd react differently if you knew exactly what happened.

    1. You have -- dare I say it? -- eliminated the element of shame, without in any way suggesting that his choices were good ones. Since others (the police, Pop) had already called out the underlying behavior that led to his missing your class, you didn't need to, but both you and Jonah did name the behavior that damaged his chances of success in your class -- disappearing for two weeks -- and agreed that it needed to change. So, no shame, but no pretending that missing two weeks of classes is okay, or that anybody but Jonah bears primary responsibility for remedying the effects of that absence. That's a reasonable understanding between adults, and that's what Jonah needs.

  5. After updating my grade spreadsheets and seeing all the red, this story recharges me enough to go and do some actual work.

    I think I've mentioned before on these pages how important such office visits can be, in that both parties put some more skin in the game, and much good comes of it.

  6. Acknowledging our own brokenness is maturity. Come degrees or years of age, some of us never make it that far.
    I hope Jonah does well. Please check back in and update us.

  7. Sid writes:

    Thank you all for the comments already. And to answer one in particular, it did make all the difference that the kid was humble and took responsibility. I find so many modern students to be belligerent about their mistakes, their cheating, their ignorance. And Jonah handled it like an adult.

  8. This story was the best I've seen in a long time. How refreshing it must have been to have a student who took responsibility for his actions, or lack thereof. He didn't place the blame anywhere but on himself.
    I think you're right. He'll go far in life.

  9. Sid writes:

    I wrote the original post on Tuesday night and sent it to the RGM, and this morning at 11:30 am I got an email from Jonah with a proposal on 2 independent projects he could do over chapters we covered during his incarceration.

    He asked if he could do the work and told me that if the projects were worth something that I could consider them as partial makeup for items missed.

    I don't actually remember this happening before, in all of my years.

    I wrote back, "It works for me, Jonah. Let me know if you need help."

  10. Thanks for the updates, Sid.
    I hope it goes well for Jonah.

  11. Just one Jonah can make up for years of Joshes and Tiffanys. Best of luck to you both.

  12. There's a huge difference between the whiners and complainers, and those who own up and try to improve (and are willing to work you you). I guess that's why Stommel and his sock puppets haven't shown up on this thread.


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