Exceeding expectations

Being an educator can be difficult, as there are so many circumstances you simply have no control over–a a student’s disposition, disabilities, learning environment, support system, etc. However, today was an encouraging one. First, a student who had been consistently a C student, at one point even failing math, is now making straight As. What makes the difference between then and now is not ability but attitude. He has discovered an intrinsic motivation that before was lacking and discovered that, in his words, “Not waiting until the last minute just makes everything easier.” Today, he asked me if his teacher would think it was weird if he asked for feedback on an assignment that wasn’t due for another two weeks. I replied, “No, I think your teacher would be thrilled.” It’s amazing to hear this from a 13-year-old, an age when abstract concepts such as work ethic and internal rewards are particularly difficult to grasp. Over the years I’ve heard the full spectrum of excuses from students, everything from “my dog is sick” to “my crab ate my homework” to (my personal favorite) “just a second, let me look for it”…shuffles through backpack pretending to look…”can’t find it, I’ll bring it next week?”…repeats same action next week. Not that these are bad kids–they’re all fantastic–and sometimes life does get in the way, even (and especially) for adults. But it’s encouraging and inspiring to see this type of turn-around in mindset from a student at an especially vulnerable age. Second, another student who has consistently lacked confidence, who states every comment as a question (“the answer is 4?”) and precedes every math problem with the statement, “I don’t know if I did this the right way,” today missed only 7 out of 47 questions on a (very difficult) timed math test, while previously she had missed nearly half the questions. Her score was better than even my very best math students! Third, a high-school student sent me two essays filled with so many fresh insights that they caused me to reflect on and reexamine my own life. None of these examples are meant to brag about my strengths as an educator. The kids did it themselves. What all of them show, though, is that anyone is capable of far exceeding expectations and making significant changes given the right attitude and opportunities.

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