Serial Sleepers CAN’T Slay with Words Instead…

That’s a House of Heroes reference if you didn’t get it…


I have a student who will not stay awake in class. We could be doing swan dives off of my desk into a pool of cotton candy and he’d still sleep in the back. His sleepiness comes from an excessive amount of video gaming at night. He does not do his homework. He does not ask for help. He is 17 and in English II. I have given him all he needs, instruction and reminders, worksheets and encouragement… but he refuses to be helped.

Today, I caught him sleeping, just 10 minutes into the practice writing prompt I gave my 3rd hour. I sat at the desk next to his and saw him drooling all over his booklet. I tapped on the desk. His face turned bright red. I tapped on his booklet and gave him a “stop sleeping and get back to work” look. I stood and watched him stare at a blank page for at least a minute. I walked away.

You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make them drink.

Five minutes later he approached my desk, “Ms. K, I’m not entirely sure what to do.” He didn’t bring me his booklet. He just stared at my desk.

“Why, —-? Why don’t you know what’s going on?” I folded my arms.

“Because… because I was not paying attention at all. I wasn’t listening.” He chuckled.

“Well in that case,” I squinted, “I am not explaining anything to you again. You had your chance. This is a practice for the real deal. Once I set you to working, you work. So go back and try again.”

He walked away.

It takes a lot for him to admit that he has actually missed something. But since he sleeps through 95% of instruction, I felt it best to tell him I couldn’t help him. I’ve been trying to equip him all semester with critical thinking skills that would cause him to think on his own. We have worked on thinking outside the box, on problem solving, on comprehension… but it appears that when you sleep through all of that stuff I’ve been trying to convey: YOU CANNOT FUNCTION ON THE TEST THAT IS SUPPOSED TO MEASURE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE LEARNED.

For about 10 minutes, he sat there and appeared to be reading the prompt or planning. And then, with his booklet in hand, he approached my desk again.

“I’ve read the instructions a million times and I can’t understand it.”

We read the instructions sentence by sentence. The first sentence, “Think of an event or situation that didn’t go as you had expected.”

“Uh, I don’t get it.” was his first response. After an explanation and some prompting, “Uh, I can’t think of any.”

“There’s never been a day that you had planned that didn’t go like you wanted it to? Or a video game that was difficult and didn’t go like you’d planned it to?”

“Well, no.”

“Then you’ll have to make something up. Just make sure it answers the prompt. It has to be something you didn’t expect to happen that you wish you could have changed.”

“I don’t know how to do that. I don’t really care if things don’t go as planned.”

“They’re not asking you if you care to answer the prompt. You have to work with whatever they give you. You have to think of something.”

“I’ll probably just not doing anything at all then.”

“That’s a good attitude. Let’s try this… So what if I told you we were going to have a party in this class tomorrow and we didn’t and instead I gave you a bunch of work to do?”

“That’s if I was even going to be here tomorrow.”

“—-, take the book and sit down. I obviously can’t help you because you’re not even TRYING to work with me here.”

He huffed and walked to his seat. He spent the rest of the class staring at his paper and scribbling down nonsense.

He will be upset and he won’t let me live this situation down because I didn’t help him when he needed help, and that’s what I’m here for right? But what he doesn’t get is that I’ve been here for the last 12 weeks. I’ve been here waiting for him to literally wake up and figure out that life is difficult but I’m trying to make it easier for him. I know he’s a teenager and whatnot, and I know that I was just as ornery to my parents when I was his age. But at the same time: I’m not his parents. I have been patient all year and I have tried to wake him up and keep him on task but if he doesn’t return the sentiment… there’s nothing I can do.

This is an age old question that has no answer. I am mad at this student because while he is probably not ever going to be a straight A student, he could put some effort into his life. And instead of taking out his incompetence and frustration on me, he should unleash it on himself. If students knew what motivation and self-worth meant… they’d all be better off for it. Instead, he will sit there and squander his life and his test and I will get penalized for it.

That’s really fair. Really, really fair. I understand why teachers give up and why they become complacent. It’s not right, but I get it. It’s not us who are failing our students, it’s our students who are failing us. We spend our livelihood, our days, our nights, our thoughts and prayers trying to engage and teach and produce successful students. But they just sit there. Common core is great. It is on the mark and it can work if used correctly. But at the end of the day, if a student doesn’t want to be reached…he won’t be reached. But he doesn’t pay the consequences for that: the teacher does.

You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make them drink.



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