Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"I'm never giving up on you."

We all remember the words that our most memorable teachers told us growing up, those words of hope, encouragement, and critique that sometimes annoyed us but always remained in forefront of our minds and conscience. For me, one such person was my ninth grade English teacher. At the time, I wanted to be a veterinarian; that's all there was to it. I never considered another career path. One day during a peer critique in class, she told me, "Hey, if this vet thing doesn't work out, you really should be an English teacher. I think you're born to do that." While I shrugged this comment off at the time, it stayed with me and became a major factor in ultimately deciding to pursue a career in education.

I often find myself trying to push and motivate students in whatever way I can. Last year, I had a student who was an extremely gifted writer. She was easily writing at an 11th or 12th grade level in eighth grade. Writing came so naturally to her and was a true gift. I made sure to encourage her to KEEP WRITING as much as I could in both verbal and written feedback. At the end of the year, she thanked me wholeheartedly and presented me with one of the most beautiful poetic tributes I have ever read. She is across the country now, but I keep in touch with her and trust that her dream to be an author lives on.

This year, like any other, plenty of memorable students have entered my life and touched me on a variety of levels. There are, of course, those students whom you look forward to seeing every morning and those students whom you would rather not have to deal with at all. One of the students falling into the latter category has kept me awake at night, as he is one of a small handful of students I do not feel like I've been able to make a real personal or positive connection with. This male Hispanic student is chronically absent, rarely seems to put forth any effort into his classes, and seems right on track to be a high school drop out, just like his older brother.

Yesterday afternoon, we had a meeting with this student and his teachers, guidance counselor, administrator, and mother. Frankly, I did not know how much real impact this face-to-face contact would have. When it was my turn to share-out behavioral and academic observations/concerns about this student, I asked the student to take out a certificate I had presented him with, which celebrated his academic improvement from the first to second marking period. He got it out, and I asked him:

"Does it feel good to experience success?"
"Yes," he said.
"Is this something you'd like to experience more often?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Do you care about yourself and school?"
"Do you want to be successful?"
"Do you know that every single person around this table wants you to be successful and cares about you? If they didn't, they wouldn't be here."
"I truly believe that you are waiting for us to give up on you ... You are used to adults giving up on you, and I can genuinely say that I am NOT going to give up on you. EVER. I hope you understand what that means."
"I do."

There was a dead silence in the room, and it was obvious that the student heard my message loud and clear. Luckily, from conversations after the meeting, the other adults thought he did as well and were impressed with the sincerity of my remarks.

While this whole interaction certainly does not represent anything extraordinary or novel for us educators, it does cement the importance of motivating students verbally and truly not wanting to give up on them. I know this particular student is intelligent, bright, and capable of anything he puts his mind to. However, with an older brother who dropped out of high school, an enabling mom who was texting at the parent conference table, and a younger sister looking for any excuse to miss the school bus in the morning and therefore not go to school, the odds are stacked high against this student. Knowing how to "do" school and want to be successful is foreign to him and probably extremely frightening.

Even though we only have him for a tiny percentage out of his entire day, I believe his teachers and I delivered a strong, positive message to the student that will help him realize that he CAN be successful, graduate from high school, go to college, get a great job, and do anything he wants to do with his life. All he needed was someone to believe in him -- and no matter what, not give up.

Oh, and this morning? This student was on time to school and in class with his materials for the first time in months. I guess something about the conversation hit home with him, and I cannot wait to see what surprises and growth the student has in store next.

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