The teacher spoke. The student listened. But they were speaking different languages.

The teacher explained to the student what assignments still needed to be handed in if the student was to have any chance of passing the class.

The student asked about this assignment and that one, trying to figure out how enough points could be earned to at least get a C as the final grade.

The teacher reminded the student that unless the assignments with the highest points attached to them were successfully completed, the student couldn’t reach that C level.

Each time the teacher offered a concrete example of what to do, the student remained silent. When asked why, the student tried to deflect the question.

The conversation went back and forth, teacher trying to explain and student trying to negotiate.

If it were a tennis match, the people in the crowd at some point would have had to avert their eyes, left to wonder how such a mismatch could have been scheduled.

Not only did the student have no chance of winning the tennis match, the student had never learned the skills needed to compete.

When the conversation ended, the teacher wondered aloud how it was possible that the student could have reached a level of education in which the most fundamental concepts of education weren’t evident.

The student struggled to write meaningful and in-depth assignments while adhering to required formatting and citation styles. The student didn’t understand the most basic attributes of a computer and how to use them to complete the work. The student couldn’t grasp why turning in assignments with smaller point values wasn’t sufficient to get a passing grade.

The student wasn’t stupid. Engage that student in a conversation, and it was rather clear rather quickly that the student didn’t belong in the “dumb” box into which educated people all too quickly want to throw other people.

The conversation between teacher and student allowed for one bitter conclusion to be drawn: As one year advanced to the next, so, too, was that student passed by teachers who lacked the resources and the time (and maybe the commitment, if we have to be brutally honest) to place the student in a position to really succeed.

Much like a home will eventually cave in without a firm foundation, the student’s educational dreams were crumbling down. What the student had never learned — but worse had never been taught — was now evident, and the finger of blame had to be pointed at people and groups, systems and institutions.

With the exception of knowing one of their students has died, there is no worse feeling for any teacher than seeing a student who wants to succeed fail.

The aforementioned teacher mad a plea to the student to consider taking either that same class or another one with the same teacher as they concluded their conversation. Soon the teacher had to sit quietly, left alone to wonder why that student was allowed to advance in an education system that too often left the student inadequately prepared for the classroom and likely real life.

And no matter how hard the teacher tried, it was impossible to shake the feeling inside that somehow the teacher had failed to teach the student. It was illogical; a few weeks with one student cannot change years of neglect.

But the good teacher mourns.

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