Most of the time I'm good at staying on track, not letting students get me off on tangents for long stretches of time. But I have one student who knows how to play me better than I do. He picks the right topics at just the right times. Today we had an early dismissal combined with low attendance. He's just starting a new topic, we have a four day weekend, and, yeah, I totally let him get away with it.
I'm glad I did.
Yesterday, we spoke briefly about his poetry. I asked him to bring in a piece to share. Today we were one-on-one, so we just talked. He performed his piece, which was an amazing moment for me. It gave me a chance to hear his perspective, to better understand where he is coming from. He's a pretty good writer, especially when I remember what his education has been.
At some point, the conversation turned to his plans post graduation. (I might have pushed it there.) I could envision him sitting around the cafeteria discussing philosophy, politics, religion, and whatever; having the courage to give his perspective during lectures; hanging out late at night; just being that voice from such a different life than his classmates. I can even see him finding his way to bring it back here.
I think it was the first time that I really saw any of my stuents succeeding at any college, not just one of the smaller, more local ones that caters to them. I could tell that he would have the courage to ask for help, a confidence that I lack for other students.
It makes me proud of him. I haven't fully learned his back story, but I think he spent time in JDC. I am almost positive he's been a trouble student in the past. He never expected to come this far. His poem included the line, "I never expected to live this long." And I'm sitting here dreaming of how far he can go.
I'm frustrated that the system has failed him. He has a brilliant mind, but his education is roughly at the same level as the middle schoolers that end up attending the colleges where I want to send him. I'm sure my visions of college are skewed by my own experience. I feel like he's best prepared for a community college or technical school, but wish I could send him somewhere like Middlebury. (Which both my sister and my cousin strongly considered last year.)
He's not always a stellar student. Mostly it's because he's absent so much, not because he's not capable. In some ways, taking the time to connect with him may be better for his math grade in the long run--who knows, maybe having a stronger relationship with me will help him come to school more. In every way I'm grateful that I have this student who is willing to share so much and help inspire me.