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Friday, April 5, 2013

Never Give Up on a student, even if they are ready to give up on themselves

Okay so that's really too long of a title for this post, but I don't know any other way of saying it. Last week marked the end of our third term and with it one of my favorite moments of the year. Sure we all enjoy teaching those that get it all the time. They think we are more clever and funny than we really are. They make our jobs and even our lives easy. This is not a story about a failing student that got an A, or even a D student that improved. I have often felt that one of the toughest things to do is to go from good to great. This story is about a B+ student who is a good student, but didn't see herself as an A student and therefore was discouraged, frustrated and ready to give up.

At the end of second term Marianne approached me. (Note: names have been changed) I need to begin by saying that Marianne liked class, she was a good student. But not a great student. Like a lot of students she had gotten by doing a good job and getting an A throughout most of her life. She signed up for honors geography and learned real quick that she was going to have to do much more to get an A. I know she was disappointed. Both 1st and 2nd terms she got a B+. This was below her standard and like many students she wanted to transfer out to the regular class to make sure she would get an A. When she approached me at the end of 2nd term she had already done so. Marianne was totally capable; she just had to believe and work more efficiently and study a bit more.

Funny thing was she didn't really want to transfer out of the class. She said, "this is my favorite class and you are my favorite teacher I just want to get an A" I understood what she meant and realized that in today's climate where A's are so sought over and mean so much to self esteem and parental pressure that this was a natural response for her to have. We spoke for a few minutes and finally I said, "I don't think you should transfer out. You can get an A. You just have to act like an A student. You need to do all the work and make sure it is high quality, complete, and in on time. You can do that. You might need to study more, but you can do that too. I think this is important for you to keep at this and work harder and make this happen."

I know that Marianne never wanted out of the class. I know she liked it. But she needed to make a few minor changes. Most important of which she needed to believe that she belonged with all the other honor students. It can be an intimidating climate when everyone is an alpha and really is intelligent and hard working. I said, "You are as smart as anyone in this class, but you don't always believe it. It's time to start believing. I don't want you to transfer out and I don't think you really want to either."

She smiled and said, "Well what can I do, I just transferred out?"

I responded, "That's easy. How did you get out of the class? Tell your counselor you had a change of heart and you are up to the challenge."

Marianne agreed and had a look of determination that she didn't before we spoke. Later that day she found me and told me she was back in. I reiterated how important it was that she believed she belonged and that she had to see herself as an A student.

Grades came out a couple days ago. Marianne not only received an A, but also got an A in every class. Something she hadn't done all year. Equally impressive were the H's in citizenship that went with the A's. She came in after school to show me. It was a nice moment for both of us. She got to prove to herself she could do it and let me be a part of it. I said, "I hope you realize that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. This wasn't as easy as you would've liked it to be, but you made some personal changes and set a goal and you made sure you achieved it. You have learned a valuable lesson in life at a young age and most importantly you have proven to yourself that you can."

Priceless smile.

Getting students to believe and then do what is necessary to achieve is what this is all about.


  1. Great post!

    I'm curious-what are the Hs?


  2. In Utah students receive an academic grade as well as a citizenship grade. Citizenship grades are as follows: H is honors, G is good, S is satisfactory, N is needs improvement, U is unsatisfactory. In order to get an H a student has to not only be of the highest behavior, but to help out other students and be a positive influence on others. Getting straight H's is hard to do, even the best students get G's or S's.

  3. I wish we gave citizenship grades. That is awesome!