We are eight weeks into school. I’m tired. The students are tired. The “new” has worn off. This week we tackled some challenging material. I purposefully made the workload extend over several days to allow students time to think, assimilate, and complete their work while maintaining a high standard. Students were to turn in their work on Friday. I STILL had some students that did not have their work ready to submit – GRRRrrrrr! At least that was my knee-jerk reaction inside my head. Then I paused and reconsidered.
I had a student come to me during my conference – at the end of the day – on Friday, the last day of the week and ask for help. Inside my head it sounded something like this, “REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Are you freaking kidding me? It’s the last day – you have had all week to do this – all week to ask questions and you are just now coming in for help? Turn in what you have, get your bony butt out, and do your work next time like everyone else.”
Then I reconsidered. This is a student that spent the first three weeks and never said a word. This is a student that is insecure and feels judged ALL the time. This student failed the first six weeks because they wouldn’t complete their work. This student has NEVER asked for help before – and now they finally have. Do I really want to respond negatively? Isn’t this a positive?
So when they asked for help I said, “Hey, sure! Come on in. I’m glad to see you – let’s see if we can figure this out together.” It turns out this student has worked very hard during the week. They actually have a fair grasp of the material; they just needed a nudge here and there where they were making small mistakes. We sat together for maybe 20 minutes and they completed all of their work.
In hindsight that was a huge success. This student had done 90% of the work already and had tried. They overcame their insecurity enough to ask for help. I believe that took a certain degree of courage on their part. They cared enough to ask for help before the deadline (ok, 45 minutes before the deadline).
I’m glad I held my tongue. I’m glad I praised their effort. I’m glad I complemented them on their persistence and thanked them for caring. I hope I helped them see school as place that can be supportive. I hope I moved them forward.
I have three senior girls that come in after school and work. They struggle. They have never been strong students. One is doing her entire last year of chemistry again online for credit recovery. They beat themselves up mentally and emotionally. But you know what’s cool? They are coming in to study and learn – voluntarily – after school. They WANT to graduate. One wants to be the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
Do they make me crazy? YES. Do they always make good choices? NO. Do they make me want to twist off and go all red-neck on them at times? ABSOLUTELY! But they also say, “Mr. Strickland, will you help us?” The correct answer is, “Yes, I’ll be happy to help. Thanks for caring enough to come in after school and work. I’m proud of your persistent effort. Let’s put some music on Pandora –get a drink and a snack, sit down and let’s see what we can do together…”
It’s SO HARD. It’s hard to remember we are trying to change 11 years of poor choices. It’s hard to remember that each word I say has the ability to build them up or tear them down. I want to go home. I have work to do also. I need to exercise. I need to talk to an adult and unwind…
I need to remember that they reached out to an adult. I need to remember that they trust me. I need to remember that I have successfully built a relationship. I need to honor their effort. I need to remember that while they may not be making the best decisions, they are making BETTER decisions than in the past. I need to remember that they are moving forward. I need to remember that these are the students whose lives I have the greatest opportunity to influence – for better or worse. I need to remember that I am right where I need to be – offering them support and encouraging their efforts.
I need to remember that is why I became a teacher – to help make student’s lives better. I need to remember that no one ever said it would be easy.