Being a Teacher and the Tough Decisions that come with it

As these are the last days of the school year, teachers meet up for long hours to discuss the exam outcomes of their students. I am one of those and each year I am getting more and more aware of the fact that we sometimes make decisions that affect the whole life of a student.

It makes the decision making process hard. When someone gets  good results on his exams, it’s nice and lovely and everybody is happy and the discussion might go along the lines of “would a curriculum with extra math be a good option for this kid?”. But sometimes I feel like I have to choose between the cholera and the pest. Like for the boy who’s 21 years old and did not do well on his finals. People of his age are sometimes already halfway their university time. It’s a good guy, we all feel that way. But he was in a class with people way smarter than he, in a curriculum that was way too hard for him and where he shouldn’t have been in in the first place, and the atmosphere in his class was not really one of studying or learning, more of making fun and giving teachers (like me) a hard time. His friends did well enough to pass. He didn’t. In some way he has created an impossible situation for himself during the year. He didn’t make his assignments or handed them in way too late, he didn’t study enough for tests, he didn’t ask for help, or didn’t put any effort in it. And then there was the outcome of his final exams, that weren’t good enough to let him pass and giving him a diploma. Long and hard discussions followed. We all felt that on the one hand we couldn’t just let him have it. It might have been an option, considering his age, if he had shown at least some motivation during the year. But he didn’t. He did study well now, but the gaps were too huge. On my exam, he left with the feeling he had done sufficiently to turn the tide for my course. He didn’t. I feel for the guy, but what he was telling me as an answer to the questions I asked, was a bunch of complete nonsense. The more I asked, to try him get to the right point, the more he ran away from it, making it even worse. Many of my colleagues had the same experience.

In my opinion the decision we had to make was this: are we taking ourselves, as teachers, as educators seriously enough to not hand out a diploma out of pity, being very well aware of the fact that the boy didn’t meet the goals he should have met to make a discussion even possible? Or are we giving this guy the chance to start over, with the ‘right paper’ needed to start something he might be successful in? (And that would be after another wasted year as the kid made up his mind to go to university, to be a doctor or an engineer, as his father and grandfather before… while the thing that makes him the happiest is being outside, working in the garden, doing outside work with good tools…)

It came to a vote. It was ex aequo, which means the president of the meeting (aka the principle) got an extra vote, which he used to let the boy pass. In my opinion it was the only option that gave the boy a chance in life to create something that could be finally a success. So even if it was with a heavy professional heart, I had voted the same way. We work with people. Living beings, with hopes, dreams and a future. It might not be the best example for others who are in the same situation (as the guy hadn’t given it his best shot during the year). But in this particular case, I didn’t feel we could put him down even more just to set an example.

It was hard.

So when yesterday the principle of the younger students prayed before the meeting we had, I close my eyes and prayed along, and meant every word I said. Because the decisions we would make here could prevent a situation like the one of the guy mentioned above. It are decisions that have to be made with strength, wisdom and compassion.  Exactly how I imagine the God of whom I speak to my students to be. And exactly the way I hope to be as a teacher…