Originally I posted this in May 2012. Four days before I accepted my new 9-12 Position. Two years into teaching at this level and sometimes I feel battered and beaten and even burnt out. But my passion, my drive and my push for the best from my students only gets fine tuned with time.
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.
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 finally 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 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 even though he should not have.
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.
Initially, I intrepreted getting the best from my students to mean I had to be their friend and the "fun" teacher. That in order to get what I wanted from them I had to lower my own classroom expectations and therefore allow them to skate by. That never felt right for me. I know the value of education and I fought darn hard for my own and continue to do so. But I also know it doesn't mean it is my job to brow beat them into being walking talking A+ robots. That doesn't work either. Tough love was a popular term in the 90's but nothing describes my teaching philosophy more than tough love.
I have found it is the ones that I cared enough for to say, "You aren't giving me your best and I have seen it, so I know you have it." That isn't always easy and they don't always like it. But it is a very important part of teaching otherwise we are just buddies hanging out and I am saying, "Sure your half hearted attempt is good enough. " Tough Love is that fine space where they learn. They learn to demand more for themselves, and they find themselves in the new and sometimes uncomfortable space of growing and learning.
And I know the value of that because I heard it from him just the other day. The above post was written about a former college student who I know in my social media life now. He did go on to seize that second chance and he is out there proving to the world that told him no that he could not.
That folks is what I consider a win in my win column of teaching. I feel them slowly and steadily stacking up. I am well into my fourth year of teaching and these confirmations remind me that this life choice I made is where I am meant to be.