Dear Frustrated Student...

Knocked Down

Hello. Pull up a chair. 

I know you came here to talk about grades, or get help on an assignment, or maybe just because your mom or one of your principals forced you to. That’s OK – I don’t take those sorts of things personally.

I can’t help but notice, however, that whatever your motivation, it does NOT seem to be a deep hunger for learning this particular skill or content. That’s also OK – like I said, not personal.

I can see your frustration. Seemed like you had all the time in the world to make up work, catch up on reading, figure out a plan… and now – suddenly – the semester is almost over, due dates are past, and you finally noticed the review sheet for the final and you don’t know ANY of this stuff – or so it feels.

Or maybe it’s a nagging disdain for school in general. Maybe you’ve begun to notice that the system itself isn’t particularly geared for deep, personal learning. It’s more like a weird bureaucratic game – fake some nice, show up and turn stuff in, and guess what each teacher actually wants from week to week. What you want, who you are, where you’re at, doesn’t seem to matter much.

And you’re right – it’s a stupid system. Some of us are working on that, but…

Library Girl

Hear me out – just for a moment. Please consider that even if grades are stupid, they’re still how the current system works. Even if they don’t accurately express who you are, what you know, or what you’ve done, they ARE attainable without extensive suffering. More importantly, grades give you options. 

Maybe your parents will go easier on you about stuff if your grades are good. You have more choices about what to take next year if your grades are good. It’s easier to get into things you want to join, or get the jobs you want if you start working while still in school.

When you graduate, those silly numbers and letters largely dictate how many choices you’ll have about where you go and what you do from here. It’s not about what I think you should do at that point – it’s about YOU having OPTIONS.

And those, for better or worse, largely come from grades.

Trombone Boy

I hope, too, that you realize that even if grades don’t always measure learning, there’s still lots of learning to be had here. Most of your teachers got into this profession out of some combination of caring about kids and loving whatever subject they’re teaching. 

Not ME, of course – I’m working out my personal issues by torturing teenagers – but I’m the exception. Most of the others felt a ‘calling’ to do this. They may seem jaded and bitter now, but the roots of their idealism are still there. You just have to tap into them. 

You don’t have to love every subject, and certainly not every assignment, but please don’t let your frustration get in the way of noticing when something really is kinda cool, or interesting, or important, or engaging. It’s OK to care from time to time. It doesn’t mean you’ve sold out or given in; it just means you’re listening and willing to learn. 

One other thing, then we’ll look at your grade and realistic options between now and the end of the grading period. Pretend you’re really listening to me here and I’ll probably go easier on you when it comes time to finalize this stuff. We like to feel like we’re ‘reaching the kids’. 

It’s possible you haven’t made very good decisions so far this year. Maybe this is the latest in a long series of rocky semesters, or maybe it’s new – school used to be easy until

If the underlying issues are about family, or legal stuff, or chemical imbalances, addiction, abuse, or simply good ol’ generalized rampant dysfunction – you need to understand that you’re not old enough for most of what’s happened to you in life so far to be your fault. 

For the same reasons we don’t let you vote, drive, decide whether or not to go to school, or let you manage your own behavior while here, etc., you’re not morally, legally, spiritually, or intellectually culpable for the vast majority of what’s happened to you up until now.

Even when you’ve made choices – good OR bad – they’re inevitably shaped by your upbringing, DNA, and events beyond your control.

Confused or Annoyed

It’s not that problems go away when you hit 18, but they become more and more YOUR problems to handle as best YOU can. Part of what sucks about being a teenager is you have so many near-adult responsibilities, but so little power to handle them as you see fit. 

That’s going to start changing, and suddenly all the rules will be different. Good decisions won’t always produce immediate good results, but a series of good decisions usually results in more good results than bad. All we can do is play the odds. 

Old people like myself used to hang this poem on our bathroom walls or behind our desks – it starts with something like, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

You can’t change your parents, or your teachers, or your past. I know that sucks, but that’s how it is. You’d be surprised how many people burn up all their time, energy, and emotion trying. It never works. 

You CAN do a better job with the parts IN your control. It won’t seem like it at first, but the learning happens in the struggle. You get better at it by doing it over and over. When it works, keep doing it; when it doesn’t, try again. 

I know, sounds easy, right? It’s always easier to see and understand when it’s someone else. 


Finally, you’re smart enough for this class. If you weren’t, you’d already be in another class. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s categorizing and tracking kids. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and if you were too stupid to be in here, I’d have taken you aside long ago and said, “Honey, I have some difficult news. You’re… well, you’re a great kid, but you’re simply too stupid for this class. I’m going to help you find a bozo class where you can be with your own people.”

But I didn’t, did I?

I promise you, then – you’re more than capable. Of course it’s hard. Why would we come to school and practice a bunch of stuff we could already do, or learn stuff we already know? Hmm? Oh, well – I can’t help how that other teacher does things, but that’s not what we SHOULD be doing, at least.

And you’re going to make it. It won’t be quick, but it WILL GET BETTER. Life doesn’t get easy, but you’ll get better at it being hard, I promise. Eventually you’ll be able to reach out to those around you less capable than yourself and help them get through their craziness as well. Because you’ll get it. Because you’ll have done it. 

I’ll stop now, but I’m right about all of this. I’m very, very old, and very, very wise. Understood?

OK. Let’s look at that grade…


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