A Diamond In The Rough

He missed 2 of the first 5 days of school, so I was immediately concerned. Moments of brilliance, but absolutely no interest in school.  College and/or career ready? How do I polish this diamond in the rough in just a semester?

I want to say “Better call Saul” when he walks in the room, but I restrain myself.   I am intrigued with this 19 year old senior named Saul.  His mind, his manners, his maturity—all messed up and misunderstood by others, but more importantly, by himself.  You see, Saul is a diamond in the rough.  He doesn’t recognize his own brilliance.

I fear the months are slipping by, and I may not have enough time to help polish Saul so he recognizes his abilities before he graduates.

Every day when he arrives, he walks in with his head down, the baseball cap covering up his earphones.  His body language is clear:  I’m here just putting in the time so I can get that diploma.  “Hat off. Unplug, please.”  Reluctant compliance, but never disrespectful.

Saul arrived in my Senior English class at the end of January.  I was immediately concerned about him during the first 5 days of class because he missed 2 of them. The counselor told me he lived alone, thus he pays for rent, groceries, utilities, and gas for his truck.  He works 50 hours a week at a local gas station. Knowing this about his home life, I have tried to encourage him to balance his outside work with his school work. For Saul, one pays and the other doesn’t.   When he doesn’t show up for class, sometimes I do “call Saul” to wake him up or check on his health or transportation to school.

But when he has time and space to write and think, he shows strokes of brilliance. Although he is often tired in class, and he seems to have no self discipline to continue school work at home, he reads well, he writes coherently, and he has respectful manners. When I watch his focus while digging into an assignment (albeit, a late one), I can see his mind analyzing and his thoughts forming before he pens his own words and responses.

 However, he hates school.  Saul sees no reason for school.  He wants to just get a 70 and move on.

What a waste.  How did this happen? How have we missed out on nurturing Saul? Why wasn’t he pushed into honors classes?  And more importantly, how have we prepared him for life after high school?

I asked Saul’s permission to write about him because I was curious about his earlier life and its impact on his current status.  He failed kindergarten, and then attended many different elementary schools.  Different districts, different states, one move and then another until his family settled down for his 9th grade year.  He said he was in ISS everyday for talking back and being rude to teachers, so by the end of the 9th grade, he was expelled. He guesses it was for so many repeat offenses, but who knows?

He was determined to stay out of trouble, at least at school, during the 10th and 11th grade years, but then his family moved back to Texas his senior year, so Saul elected to stay here and “raise himself.”  He wants to be independent.  Now he isn’t in trouble at school, but he has had 2 legal run-ins with the law.

As a teacher, I ask myself:  how much positive influence can I have over Saul at this point in his life?

I asked him about his goals after graduation, and he said he wants to join the army. That would provide him security, a job, and some potential future education to hone that sharp mind.  The recent arrests may prevent this from happening.

He says “I think I’m smart, but I just had trouble adjusting. I got lazy, I played video games,  I didn’t see any purpose in school.”

I sometimes return Saul’s work with a “NY” (not yet) grade.  He bristles a bit and asks me to just give him the 60 or 70.  I ask him to make the writing clearer, or to do a better job with citations because I know he can.  I want to honor that mind of his by pushing him to the max, but sometimes I fear it might be too late.  My goal during these last 9 weeks of school is to try to polish that diamond as much as possible.

Our job as educators is to support and challenge students as they move from kindergarteners to seniors.  We all teach Sauls, and we need to find a way to help them realize their full potential before they graduate from our schools. How can we locate those diamonds in the rough before it is too late?












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  • BriannaCrowley



    Because I teach a junior English class created just for students like Saul (as well as those with IEPs & ELL directives), I know all to well this feeling of myself being “too little, too late” for some of my students. It’s disheartening to see the system played out like tatoos on our students faces and bodies. 

    The slump of the shoulders indicates all the times defiance wasn’t recognized as fear. The dead eyes mistaken for vacent minds. The compilance accepted as the end goal rather than used as a foundation for building something so much more. 

    It sucks to feel like we aren’t enough to make a difference. It sucks worse to see potential go unrealized. 

    But I have to remember that we are also seed planters. Sometimes the only part of the process we observe is the digging and covering and hoping that the sun and water cause growth. At least, that’s the hope I hold onto in the face of my “Sauls.” 

    Thanks for sharing his story. I hope he reads it and it catalyzes something in him!

    • NancyGardner

      Your insight

      Thanks for your post–and yes, the student body language often hides the true gem.

       I have actually shown this published blog to Saul, and he seemed surprised that someone really cared enough to write about him.  The true effect–at least for the moment–as soon as he read it, he said “Okay.  I’ll get that writing finished on Pride and Prejudice.” Another serendipitous moment in the classroom–about the power we have.

  • AnneJolly

    Kids like Saul populated my

    Kids like Saul populated my middle school science classes – either discouraged and with a history of not achieving,  or with a real disinterest in all things academic.  

    One thing that discouraged many students was the traditional way of schooling at a time when society was changing at a rapid rate. Events outside the classroom were exciting and colorful.  Events in the classroom often involved sitting quietly in straight rows working individually. 

    Like most teachers, I was a pretty good lecturer/discussion-leader. But what brought my students to life was letting them work in teams (or at least in pairs) to learn and to engage in hands-on investigations to solve problems. The Sauls of the world liked to do something “real” – something that allowed them to use what they had learned to do something. 

    To rescue the Sauls (and their female counterparts), we need to change how we approach teaching and learning. And to do that, we need to change the school schedules to allow for more interaction with students (relationships are important) and more time for planning together as teachers to intervene.

  • NancyGardner

    Saving Sauls

    I totally agree with you, Anne, and thanks for pointing to some solutions for reaching the Sauls of our classrooms before it is too late. Sadly, we tend to do more “exciting” and “hands on” learning in some of the upper level classes as some teachers feel the other classes “can’t do.”  The irony is that these are the kids who really grow in more student centered, active classrooms.