I have seen many stories this year about the academic struggles of students. Many teachers have a lot of student failures -- more than they have experienced in their entire career. And it can be demoralizing. But teachers… you have not failed. You have bent over backwards for your students. You have given them chance after chance after chance… and many of them are continuing to make decisions that don’t seem rational to us. While you all are not responsible for the decisions of your students; many of you all are taking these grades personally. You hurt because your students have not been successful, but you also hurt because you know many of your students are confronted with challenges at home which are out of their control. And so you hurt because your students hurt. I always appreciate conscientious educators, but I don’t want you to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.
When you Google school mission statements, you will see phrases like:
“We will challenge students to reach their potential…”
“We will maximize learning opportunities…”
“We will inspire students to be life-long learners…”
“We will provide a safe and nurturing environment…”
The imperative of providing a safe environment is the obvious reason so many schools have transitioned to a virtual learning model. Safety trumps “best practices.” But how do we fulfill our academic mission in a pandemic? To put it bluntly, we refuse to give up. We continue to maximize opportunities for students; we continue to challenge; we continue to nurture; we continue to inspire.
So how many opportunities do our students deserve? I’m not sure how to answer that except to refer back to the mission. And consider what is missing from most mission statements. Timeframes. Timeframes for gaining knowledge… timeframes for developing skills… timeframes for learning. The goal is that they will become responsible; clearly many of our students are not there yet. So we push on.
One of my former teachers became the Teacher of the Year for his district several years ago. A reporter asked him for his advice to teachers. This is what he said: “Teach every student like you are their lifeline. You are their last chance to succeed. You don’t know what each child has been through. You don’t know how many chances each child has had.”
When you look at your list of students, you may see a lot of failures. When I look at our list of teachers, I see a lot of lifelines. Do the students deserve another chance after you have given them so many already. Perhaps not. But as one teacher told me, “This is the year for grace.” That would suggest that “deserve” has got nothing to do with it. The mission of all educators is about our collective commitment to our students. So thank you for making that commitment. I hope we will all be able to look back on this year and remember it as the year we refused to give up on our students.