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The other 28.

At a professional development session where I was the presenter, I overheard a teacher complain: "But I have 28 other students in this class. I can't spend all my time with that one student." Her statement came only minutes after my elaborate description of being a high school pushout. I immediately moved closer to the teacher.

When she saw that I was hovering near her table, she looked at me for validation. She cautiously rallied her tablemates to her defense and asked loudly: "Isn't that our responsibility, the other students in the class who are doing what they're supposed to be doing? They deserve an education that's not disrupted or interrupted." I could almost hear faint cheering from the other training participants. The teacher next to her nodded and noted that we have to focus on students who aren't being disruptive, disobedient, dis. . . well, you fill in the blank.

I've heard that statement hundreds of times while working with educators: "But what about the other 28?"

"That one student who drives you crazy, makes you pull your hair out, or go gray earlier than expected, that one student who fawns for your attention or completely ignores your requests, day in and day out. . . that student needs you," I said. I reminded them that 80% to 90% of students will respond positively to most evidence-based interventions that are implemented with fidelity.

"That means that those other 28 kids that you are so lovingly worried about are going to do just fine," I told them. "But that one student could become a dropout. That one student could wind up with the millions of other high school dropouts who have dismal life outcomes, lower pay, higher risk of medical and mental health issues, greater chance of being caught in the criminal system, being addicted to drugs, unemployed, living on federal assistance."

"Those other 28 students might be annoyed at that one student in 4th grade who always dis disrupted the class and got in trouble. But they'll go forward in their careers as doctors, lawyers, teachers. They'll all make it without much intervention and with only a little assistance and support." I made eye contact with each teacher in the room. "But that one student," I pointed my finger to my chest, "I slipped through the cracks, and I'm the one who needed you."

I can recall the look on the teacher's face who had initiated the conversation; it was a look of disbelief, as if I were shattering the one truth that she held constant in every teacher's lounge bashing session. She almost looked mad. The others also stared in disbelief. I know that what I was telling them was legitimized only because of who I was, the dropout, the one.

After decades spent in education, I can understand why a teacher feels the need to protect the flock at the risk of the black sheep. But being "the one," I also know that the flock will graze, prosper, and produce while the black sheep might not.

I am still the black sheep, despite the fact that I am now a doctoral student, a successful trainer and education consultant, and a person who has persisted toward many great achievements in life. That vision of myself--those deficits I held as early as 2nd grade--are still strong in me. To every teacher who asks me about the other 28, I always ask them back, "What about the one?"

The one student who demands the most attention may be the student who needs it the most--and will benefit the most when teachers deliver.

JENNA SAGE is the owner of Sage Advice Consulting, an education training, consulting, and coaching business in Tampa, Fla.
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Title Annotation:BackTalk; intervention
Author:Sage, Jenna
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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