Chances - FamilyEducation

Chances

April 11,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

This is the time of the semester when one of two things usually happens: my students either kick their study habits and attitudes into high gear and become Super Students, or they disappear into what I like to call The Black Hole--you know, the one where on the other side is green grass, warm breezes, blissful lack of responsibility and about a dozen other things (many bad, some good) that grab hold of the students, pulling them down different roads, none of which leads into the classroom.

Some students traveled through this black hole earlier in the semester and they've emerged now, dazed and confused, wondering what they can do to pass the class. Then they come back, looking for that second chance.

I'm a firm believer, as a teacher AND a parent, in second and third and fourth chances. I can't imagine not giving them to my own kids (isn't that what childhood is about--making mistakes, learning, growing, moving on?) and I can't imagine withholding them from my students. In the almost 12 years I've been teaching now, I have come across only a handful of students who blew all their chances--and it takes a lot to do that with me. Some colleagues (and parents, too) are merciless, and believe that chance-giving does little to prepare a young person for the Real World--the place where chances aren't handed out so freely. But I would argue the opposite. If a young person is given a second chance--a chance to take the mistake and learn from it, to reapply it towards success, then they become all the more prepared to meet the challenges of life.

I've been thinking about this today, as I always do on days like this, when I give back-to-back quizzes in my English composition classes. I watch the students hunched over their papers, writing earnestly, or struggling to get the wheels turning on a Friday morning. Outside on this fabulously warm spring day, the birds are fluttering and singing, and from the quad below the window we can all hear the voices of other students, talking and singing and getting busy with the moment. While I'm gazing out into the sun, I catch sight of one of my students, Student L. He has his face turned to the window, daydreaming. Perhaps he's reconsidering his commitment to the Second Chance he's been given? (He took my course last semester and failed.) He came to my office only this morning, after having been gone for some days--and after missing the quiz his class took at 9:00.

"Please can I take the quiz at 10:00?" he asked me. "I've been reading like crazy, and I know I can do it."

"I'm giving out chances today," I told him. "So sure--come and try."

During the quiz, Student L. catches me catching him daydreaming out the window. I tap on the gradebook open on my desk, and he smiles and snaps back to attention. After the quiz is done, and the students have handed their papers back and filed out of the room, I take some time to grade them. When I get to Student L.'s paper, uncertain of what I will find, I am pleased to discover he earned a "B"--a grade he hasn't been able to get all semester on a single quiz. Scrawled at the bottom of his quiz is a note to me:

"Thanks for the chance, Professor M."