The power of a student’s words

In an earlier post, “Power of a Teacher’s Words“, I talked about the power that teachers have when they speak to their students – whether positively or negatively. Today, as I was remembering my first year teaching, I came to realize that can be true in reverse.

My first year teaching, I started at the beginning of the second semester. My students had become quite familiar with the teaching style of my predecessor, who told me, among other things “let them have open-book tests and limit the answer choices to two – it makes them feel better.” I was enthusiastic about my new role and very excited about practicing all the things I’d been learning in my alternative certification program.

I planned my lessons really well that year – thoughtfully considering how my students would remain engaged, learn something, AND think I was a good teacher. The reality hit me fairly quickly that I had just stumbled upon the hardest job in the world and I frequently asked myself on my drive home in the dark “have I made the wrong choice?” I would stand in my classroom, looking at the faces looking back at me and think “I’m failing them.”

I struggled with the fact that my students didn’t love Biology as much as I did. I struggled with the reality that they often really wouldn’t do their work at home. I often heard them complaining that I was making them work too much.

Around the end of the 5th six weeks, I was sitting at my desk after school, grading papers when a girl walked into my room.

“Mrs. Plybon?”

“Yes?”

“I know you don’t know me, but I just wanted to tell you I wish you were my Biology teacher because my friend tells me that she is really learning in your class.”

The truth is that right before that girl walked into my classroom, I had resolved to make a drastic change in my classroom.

I was going to follow my predecessor’s advice – assign no homework; don’t expect anything out of them; give them all the answers; make it easy on them; pass them all.

After she walked out, I was thankful for the reminder of why I wouldn’t do any of the above.

One student changed the rest of my life. If I had, indeed, fallen victim to my desperation that night, I can confidently say that I would no longer be a teacher.

One student. One sentence. Powerful. My advice to new teachers – don’t focus on the multitude of complaints – hang all of your strength on small sentences. They will be enough to carry you through.

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