There might be nothing in the world I hate more than Retention Meetings. Teachers in my old district always complained that we just passed on kids no matter what, but they clearly never had to be a part of meetings like this. Having to tell a parent that their child needs to do sixth grade again just wrenches my heartstrings in this unnecessarily intense way. Somehow I’ve become completely hardened to discipline (I’ve seen time and time again that structure and consequences are the best thing for kids, so no amount of tears can get to me anymore), but logic hasn’t yet prevailed over emotions when it comes to holding kids back a grade.
When I just think logically, I can get myself on board. We present the parents with tons of data from all different sources showing that their kid is FAR below grade level in reading and math. We talk about how this is just going to make the next grade even harder, and the next one worse after that, and so on. Then we talk about the benefits of getting to do a sixth grade a second time, so they can keep improving, see things again that they didn’t understand the first time, and set themselves up better for success. We talk on and on about everything we know about the kid and why we believe that they’ll suffer in seventh grade but ultimately be much better off if they take one year to shrink their gap with grade level. We talk a lot about long-term goals and the future.
Then we start The Beg. We tell the parents about all the supports that will be in place for their kid to make sure the coming year is as successful as possible. We talk about intervention classes and support specialists and summer school and after school and whatever else we think the kid might need. We talk about how we’ll set growth goals instead of absolute goals if necessary, because we’ll never hold the kid back a second time. We pull on the connections we have with the kid and the family, hoping they’ll remember that it’s all coming from love and from concern for their future. We look everyone dead in the eyes and tell them, again and again and again, that we will never give up on this child, that we will do everything we can think of to make the rest of their lives great, and that this is a really tough decision but we ultimately believe it’s the best choice in the long term. If they so much as mention pulling the kid out of our school, we’re ready with a truckload of data in hopes of persuading them that it would be a bad idea. Then we hand them all the resources we can think of and trip over ourselves to offer them support, guidance, or space.
The kids all cry like crazy, but every single parent agrees with us in the end. Without fail, they hear us out, sigh, nod their heads, and sign the paperwork retaining their kids. A couple of them only bemoan the fact that their elementary schools hadn’t done it sooner. Everyone else but me seems to have a rational understanding that a twelve-year-old’s short-term suffering is a fair exchange for long-term success. Even the kids end up smiling and hugging us again in the next few days.
I, on the other hand, just can’t shake the little kids’ sad, sad faces. I know that everything we tell the families is true, and I know that these kids aren’t ready for seventh grade but will be much more ready in another year. Regardless, after those meetings, I lock myself in the bathroom and cry.