Dear Terrence,

I’m afraid we in the middle school business have — how I hate that I’m going to use this cliche — set you up for failure. We’re programming you to be a drop-out, and I wish there was something I could do about it, but this is about it: I can explain a simple reality to you.

You’ve figured out the system, how things have worked to this point. You understand that chances are slim you’ll ever be failed another grade. After you’ve failed fourth grade, you figured out that, even if you end the year with all F’s, the school pass you on. That’s a bad choice of words, because you aren’t passed. The technical term is “placed.” As if you’re some object to be arranged in a still life.

However, things are about to change. Though you’re failing every single core class, you’ll move on to ninth grade next year. I know it; you know it; the principal knows it; all the teachers know it; your mother knows it. We all understand that. What you might not understand is the reality waiting for you in high school: teachers will not simply place you in the next grade as can happen in middle school. If you fail English I, you’ll have to take it again. If you fail it again, no one will say, “Well, he failed once; we can’t fail him twice,” and then place you in English II. If you were to fail it yet again, about the only thing the high school teacher and guidance counselor could say is, “Well, better luck the third time.” But by then, and quite probably before the third time, you’ll have dropped out. You’ll judge things to be a no-win situation and you’ll cut your losses and drop out.

At least that’s what I fear.

I don’t know if you actually believe me when I say these things. You’ve probably gotten so many empty threats from teachers in the past that you’re skeptical of everything an authority figure says. But please understand, this is not a threat, and it’s certainly not empty. It’s a word of friendly advice. And, quite frankly, a warning.

Your Teacher in Room 302


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