As we approach the end of the school year, as the state tests are distributed, and as we slowly wind down to the end of school, it is very easy for all of us (teachers included) to loose sight of the fact that… school isn’t over!
Yet, around this time, we start to see the clues and signs that yes, the clock is winding down. The biggest clue; behavior. Around this time we begin to see complacency, apathy towards grades, and a rise in misbehavior. And life, like education, has a wide range of influences. To narrow down the list of the things that affect behavior to “one thing” means to ignore the collective influence of society (I write this on 4/20 the anniversary of the columbine massacre), age, socioeconomic trends, etc.
And what do we call the students who choose to display this type of behavior? The Cash Out Kids.
You have either seen or heard of these kids before; the kids who refuse to do anything. Who seem to have no regard for others, who become more and more rebellious as the days pass. Why? Because at some point, they have made the decision to take their losses and cash out.
Let me first explain that I teach a Forensic Science course for Seniors at a STEM Magnet high school. This means that I have a wide range of students in my classroom. Which means that on a daily basis, much like you, I teach to and reach kids that are all over the bell curve in abilities. I understand that this might seem “dramatic”, but the reality is that, there will be a small percentage of your population that will refuse to try. It might be more evident in at the High School level, but based on my conversations and experiences with kids and adults who interact with kids, I feel pretty confident with my statement
The big question; why? Why do we have kids that refuse? And why is it that towards the end of the year, they all seem to agree to act up at the same time?
I cannot offer any data to support my next unscientific observation. What I can say for certain is that the end of the year is a difficult time for students. For those who put in the work all year long, the end of the school year is a time to reap the rewards. They have put in the time and energy required to succeed and can now relax some, coasting on their earlier efforts.
For those that are in the middle, the idea of crossing the finish line is the only thing that matters. They don’t care what the official grade is so long as it is a passing grade. For the majority of our students, understanding that they have passed and can move on to the next grade is a reward. They are not so preoccupied with status as they are in making sure they are not downgraded or held back.
For the few that don’t “care” enough about anything, much less their grades and their school standing, this is as good as time as any for them to decide to stop putting in effort towards their education. The “attitude” on their part is not apathy but rather a signal that something has gone wrong. The “I don’t care attitude” is more than just youthful hubris; its a signal.
Without hope and without reaping the rewards (yes, passing is a reward) of others these students decide to throw caution to the wind, and cash out. They make the decision that letting go and walking away with whatever they have is in their best interest. As a teacher, nothing is more heartbreaking.
So what do you do?
The first thing to do is understand that when a student decides to cash out; its because he or she feels that’s in his best interest. He or she sees that as being their best option. Which means that the adults in the lives have failed them. No child should feel that abandoning their education is in their best interest. What they are lacking is someone who can show them that its never too late to turn things around.
Which is true! Every year on the first of the month, adults around the world make promises and resolve to make “this” year, the year they . . .
If we, as adults, live with a carrot of hope dangling before us; children deserve nothing less.
Every child deserves to have an adult in their lives that is crazy about them. Every. Child.
Regardless of their behavior, as the adults in their lives, it is our responsibility to show them that it is never too late to turn things around.
So what do you do with a cash out kid? Everything you can. Because it’s not just about the child; it’s about everyone else who’s watching.
For every one cash out kid, you have a classroom full of kids who are watching to see what you do. The behavior you model for those students, the respect you show that one child, is what your other students will learn. They way you treat that child is a lesson to the other children on how they should treat each other. And in the worst case scenario, should that child decide to cash out completely, you have taught everyone a valuable lesson; you, as a teacher, will not give up on your students. You will have given them all hope, solidified trust in you, and have sent that cash out kid a message of hope. If not a hope in themselves, a hope in you.