Too many times over the past five years, I’ve heard educators say things like, “There’s not much we can do for this kid. He’s already (blank) years old so we might as well just spend our time helping kids who can actually benefit from our services.”
While I get the sentiment behind not pouring resources down the drain, I can’t help but recoil against the idea that teaching is a limited resource or that students are inanimate drains.
If you think I’m exaggerating about administrators saying students are unreachable, you’re wrong. I’ve worked in three different schools, sent my children to four other schools, and worked with foster children through several different programs across two states. In almost every building, I’ve interacted with someone who thought it was a waste of time to help the most difficult behavioral students.
Sometimes the difficult student was my own child. Other times, it was someone else’s son or daughter, and I only knew of the issue because I was involved in the decision making process at their school.
Once when it was my own kid, a principal told me she couldn’t invest much energy into helping my son because he’d only be with her for summer school so there wasn’t really a point. Another time, when it was someone else’s child, I saw a team of people decide not to provide behavioral services to a child who desperately needed them “because he was in fifth grade already.”
“He’ll be in middle school next year,” they said, “Whatever we teach him right now isn’t going to matter once he changes schools. Let’s focus on someone else.”
Another time, I heard a counselor say about a fifth grader:
“She’s only in this building for another five months. What can we really accomplish in that amount of time?”
I’ve heard it about putting educational supports in place, about getting kids evaluations (both academic and psychosocial), and about teaching kids new relationship skills. There’s always someone advocating against putting the effort into kids who aren’t worth the time.
What is WITH US? Why must we put timelines on human beings and their progress? Why do we think we have to write the timeline to other people’s lives? Why do we use social constructs to determine when and how people should go about “getting their lives together?”
What right do we have to say someone is too intense, too old, or too risky to make progress? WHAT RIGHT DO WE HAVE?
Even as an adult, I recently heard a coworker say, “Do people think they can just go back to college at forty years old and change their lives? Come on! That’s not going to happen.”
I didn’t say anything to my coworker, but my first thought was, “YES! People think they can just ‘go back to college’ at forty years old! And YES, they can change their lives!”
Why in the actual world would we tell someone that their life was basically over before they hit forty? The second half of life doesn’t count at all? Why? Because there are more wrinkles involved?
We have no right to put time frames on other people’s lives, particularly in the area of success. Success is such a relative idea, which shifts and changes as we grow. In the same way, adults who work with behavioral children have no right to put timelines on a kid’s success. A child is never too old, too far gone, or too much of a risk to be helped.