I gave my practice AP Calculus AB exam this past weekend. The students had to show up at 8:30 in the morning and sit for about 3.5 hours and take the "mock" exam. Of course they whined about coming in, but I just put on my stern teacher face and just went on like, "of course you'll come in. Why would you NOT come and sit for an exam? (on the weekend, early in the morning, using your brain before it has woken up?)" ... on the inside I was wondering how many would show up. Well, 23 of the 28 showed up (woot woot).
They did not do as well as I would have liked, but on the bright side, they made silly mistakes that if they could fix, they would have boosted their scores to passing and getting college credit. They'll be working on that this week. I felt like I had to walk a fine line on Monday cheering them on to step up to the plate, and admonishing them for not studying harder before. It seems to be the culture of this particular school for most (but definitely not all) students to just do the bare minimum and not put out any extra effort to excel.
I had a discussion in the work room with a teacher who said, "no student is a competitor any more". He basically seemed to think that it's pointless to try to get them to work hard. I can't believe that. You can't just discount a whole generation of people, and say that they'll never improve. There has to be a magic combination of things that you do as a teacher such that various actions on your part will affect various students to do better. I've seen it. I haven't seen it consistently, but that's my battle to overcome, to "do better and to improve".