The Small Things

Joey is a junior and, already, failing four classes. We have seen this many times before. The debate always sounds the same:

    “Joey is lazy.”

    “Wait–maybe Joey is unmotivated”

    “What’s the difference?”

    “If he is lazy, there is nothing for us to do. If he is unmotivated, there is everything for us to do.”

I wonder how to bring a true sense of curiosity to the dialogue. My colleagues get insulted when I suggest that “laziness” is not a fair assessment. Here’s a kid who comes to school every single day, on time, clean and dressed well. I’m not convinced that laziness is the problem.

And there’s more. According to Joey’s teachers, he is capable of doing fine work. “He’s so smart!” “Such an excellent writer!” Yet he fails to turn in most of his major assignments and, consequently, fails his classes. We can’t give grades based on potential, after all.

Tomorrow I will meet with a small group of colleagues in our Critical Friends Group. I will bring samples of Joey’s work from all of his classes (the few things he has managed to turn in). We will participate in a protocol designed to help us think more expansively and less evaluatively about Joey and his so called “work ethic”. 

A few days ago, I met with a college student who was curious about City High School. He said “I looked at the website and didn’t see what made you different other than the fact that you are so small.”

We are so small. We all know Joey. Every single one of us, whether we teach him or not. And tomorrow when we sit down for a structured conversation designed to unearth what is making Joey tick, we will be celebrating, among other things, the fact that we are small. May our small conversation tomorrow lead to big insight.


Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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