Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. -F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yesterday I had my last day of conferences with my students. The load was light and I had a student sit in front of me and tell me something that was surprising to me. I have done this for four semesters now and very few of these types of moments surprise me. But he did. He let me know this class was one he had previously taken and struggled with so he withdrew.
Usually as an instructor you can kind of tell the ones that come in to retake the course. Usually it starts out with their proclamations of an unfair professor or or how they didn’t understand anything that they were taught. Usually it is always code for it just didn’t work for whatever reason. For me, I can maneuver around my least favorite professors. But as a freshman I am not sure I could have, luckily I didn’t have too. Therefore, I let my students vent and I nod and take note of the learning styles they possess and usually apply it. Unless of course they lack personal responsibility but that is another post another day, remember?
So anyway we are sitting there talking and reflecting and he shares his confession above. I remain surprised because he is one of my best and brightest this semester. I asked him, “Well, what worked?” He proclaimed in a much longer proclamation that I will share here that I saw him for who he really was and played to that in the classroom.
Initially, I accepted the compliment and I felt good and then I felt bad because he was a good student who obviously had been misunderstood. And suddenly in this conference, I saw I a lot of myself. A student who once given a second chance took it and made a success out of it. But without that second chance may have not. He went on to share some personal things about his upbringing and people not giving him a second chance.
And I begin feeling that familiar feeling well up. The feeling or fire that keeps me plugging along daily. The feeling of someone saying, “No you can’t do that, You will fail.” I told him, “You know what? I love the underdog story. And I can tell you now, you are no underdog. Go do what you what you gotta do to do what you want to do. I am living proof of second chances.” He was tearing up as was I.
And because I am always thoughtful and contemplative I sat there wondering after he left how many times he had been dismissed by others because of various circumstances. Then I realized I, too, was that girl. I have been dismissed too many times to count and likely enough that I will never truly see myself as a success despite knowing that on paper I could be called at least a variation of the success I strive for.
But I can give those chances to my students. I really try hard to not pre-judge their backgrounds and capabilities. I know though that I bring into the classroom with me experiences and notions of what and who people are, but I try and call them out right away so that I can acknowledge when they exist. But by all accounts he may be picked to fail but I know he won’t. He is fighting. He isn’t letting anyone tell him no. He screwed up his first chance in more ways than one, but I have no doubt when he left our conference that he won’t screw up now and he will be one who will make it despite the world saying he should not.
Please don’t misunderstand my criticism here. There is no fault to be had here in my opinion. Sometimes we all need that little push of a voice saying, “No, you can’t.” Sometimes we don’t. I am just grateful everyday I am given the opportunity to give second chances despite even realizing it sometimes.