It's so sad to see people throw their lives away.
Especially as a teacher, where are you working hard to make sure your students do have a bright future, watching your own students care less about themselves than you care about them is painful.
And recounting those stories must bring up painful memories.
Here were some of the answers.
Obligatory not a teacher. Was a girl in my class in 10th grade, complete genius, super sweet but terrible home life. She was incredibly smart but I think the pressure at home (abusive family, drug addicted parents) and to succeed at school just got to her. She got hooked on meth, dropped out and got arrested for drunk driving. Still in jail iirc. It's so sad, I wish she had been dealt better cards.
The System Sets Them Up
I teach high school English and the biggest reason students throw away success is by letting their environment overpower their drive.
It breaks my heart when I see kids throw away their future one small choice at a time— their friend is a dealer, so they dabble in it a little, then get caught and now have a record, then become a little more hardened and start fighting, then have a bigger record... Here was this 14 year old who had big dreams for the future, and by the time they are 18, one small choice after another has put them on a completely different track.
BUT I've also seen students make the opposite journey and completely turn their life around for the better.
I also just want to add that the way the school system, the legal system, and the penal system is set up doesn't do anyone favors, so it's really easy for young adults to dig themselves deeper and deeper, with no structural support on how to get themselves out of the hole.
There was a 9th grader who wasn't very smart but he was dedicated. He was also well behaved, which helped to put him among our favorite students.
A bit of context: in my country you can get 2 types of success certificate in high school, one if you pass 70 GPA and one if you pass 85.
This kid got the 70 one on the first term, and after the break he completely stopped caring about his classes and started acting disrespectfully against the teachers. I talked to him about it a few times, he said he wanted to go back to the way he was but it never happened.
He could've achieved a lot with that hard work. What a shame.
Am a teacher, a burnt out one at that. Sometimes I think the person that may have thrown away success may have been me. I teach middle school and it's just... exhausting. The struggle to maintain my life and my job has become so stressful that medication and therapy can hardly scratch the surface. I used to be pretty smart, people told me I was going places...but now I'm resigned to crippling anxiety and near constant disrespect from my clientele of whom I'm supposed to become basically a martyr for. I had a coworker once say that young people get into teaching because school is all they know. ...thanks Debbie, never gonna be able to get that out of my head. Is it June yet?
Not a teacher. I met a friend during summer school after first grade. We instantly hit it off. By 5th grade we were best friends and hung out constantly. In 7th grade (start of middle school) we made some new friends to our circle and all was well. My friend was incredibly smart and did great at everything and was always a pleasure to be around. 9th grade took a turn. One of the kids in our circle had a few other friends start joining us at lunch and those kids weren't great people. Constantly drinking, smoking weed, shrooms, coke, etc. it wasn't long before my friend followed along. He would constantly fight with his parents and even took a bat to his dads car. His parents were older (mom was 45-50 when she had him) so they didn't have the energy to do anything. By 12th grade he and all the other friends went to alternative school and I was the only one left. To this day I'm the only one who hasn't been to jail or addicted to any type of drug.
I saw his parents a few years back after I took a vacation to visit my parents following a deployment and his parents were thrilled to see me. They told me that my friend was only allowed to go into their house via a ladder they leave outside his window. He isn't allowed into any other portion of their house as he destroys everything due to constant meth and cocaine usage. His dad very nonchalantly stated that he didn't want his son to be homeless but also wouldn't care if he just disappeared from their lives as he wasn't the same son they knew and loved.
I hope he figures his life out.
Maybe Work With Them Instead Of Complaining
There's a saying that teachers should never work harder than their students. It means that we can craft amazing lessons and opportunities to interact and grow and learn all sorts of non-academic skills, but you can't force kids to engage.
I *know* how dated this will sound, but in the past 4 years I've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of kids who can't or won't put down their phones. Having said that, most of my students can't focus and can't interact with others the way kids could just a few years ago.
So, I don't see throwing away success as much as I see endlessly sh*tting on every.single.opportunity presented. We'll come up with fun field trips, discuss new clubs, and kill ourselves trying to get these kids to engage with anything other than their phones, and they're like...
It really, really sucks.
One Failure Is Still Bad
Had a student last year doing his GCSEs (exams at 16). He'd been quiet and found it difficult but was doing well enough to be able to get a passing grade in his exams. With a term to go, his work ethic starts dropping off - he's just sitting there, doing nothing, writing no notes at all.
Phoned home to express concerns, and mum told me flat out that she'd told him he only needed to work in English and Maths, and as long as he wasn't throwing chairs around my room she was fine with that. Couldn't do anything about it. He pretty much failed his exams in my subject.
The Future Freaked Her Out
A high school student who was a class clown from the beginning, nothing disrespectful, just hysterical honestly. And her grades were phenomenal. Not the smartest kid in class but so well rounded. Every project she put so much effort and creativity into. She was an amazing artist too, and an amazing writer. I honestly cant explain to you how creative she was, on top of a killer personality.
Then her senior year she started dating a very unmotivated boy. Her grades dropped. When it came time to apply to college, she didn't. We discussed trade schools and beauty school or just a career in anything. She declined. She moved in with this boy. The two of them sell pot for a living. I cant help but feel that her future would have been so much brighter had she never met this boy.
This Is Why We Don't Mess With Drugs
Not a teacher, but the smartest girl in my class got pregnant right after high school and she didn't know who the father was, because she liked to get drunk and sleep with random guys.
Anyway, she dropped out of college to raise her daughter. Wound up living in a seedy trailer park, became a drug addict, had her daughter taken away, then got herself in to an abusive relationship with a drug dealer.
At age 26 she was found nearly dead of a overdose. The hospital was able to revive her, but she had massive brain damage from not breathing for about 5 minutes.
Since then all she can do is sit in a chair and that was 13 years ago. She can't talk and she wears an adult diaper.
I never thought that would happen to her when we were in high school. She was book smart, but not street smart and now she is basically a hardly functioning human.
Mental Health Is So RealGiphy
University English instructor here. The most devastating issue for me is when a student is clearly brilliant, an excellent with compelling ideas and ambitions, but is struggling with the lessons they've been taught to believe. Most students learn to hate writing in high school and many come to undervalue their original ideas.
One student in particular struggled so much with mental health issues and insecurity that, despite being one of the best writers I've ever taught, just stopped coming to class and turning in assignments 11 weeks into the semester. They said that they just "didn't know why it was worth it anymore." I continued to reach out to them and we eventually worked out a way for them to finish the course but, in my experience, hopelessness drives failure.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.