THIS Close…

I’ve got this kid…

Let’s call her Norah.  Norah is a senior, and she failed out of the English class she had with me last year.  She struggles as a writer, she believes she doesn’t have anything important to say, and she thinks she doesn’t think as keenly as others do so, as a consequence, she gave up about 3/4 of the way through and failed out.  She did online work over the summer to make up that credit, and she came back to me this year as a senior.  So far, she’s been doing okay – better than last year, certainly, but I can tell that she’s just doing time.

This afternoon, one of my colleagues ratted Norah out.  He told me that she’d told him at lunch that the only reason she can’t write extended papers is that she’s “never been pushed to.”  She was lamenting the fact that she still struggles with expanding her thinking out past the easy and obvious, and she was looking to pin the responsibility for that on someone other than her.

I chased her ass down as soon as I heard this and found her in a study group with another senior.  In front of that kid and another of my colleagues, I told Norah that I rejected her claim that she’d not been pushed – as a matter of fact, I personally have spent the last year and a half pushing her (it’s a wonder she still talks to me).  I told her, in front of those witnesses, that I think she’s capable of not just good, but great, and that if she just quit fighting and convincing herself that she sucks, she could, you know, NOT.

I thought about it all afternoon, and I feel like she’s THIS close to figuring all of this out, so I sent her this via email:
Dear Norah,

First, know that I’m not at all upset with you, and I’m not taking what you said personally; I know that you believe that English is hard for you and that you feel you may not have gotten the support you needed all along.  I can’t help that, but I AM doing my very best to give you my very best now, while I’ve got you.

What I really want you to know – not just know, but believe – is that *I* believe in you.  I think you’re smart and strong and funny and beautiful, and it KILLS me that you don’t see yourself the way I do.  I truly believe that if you just figured out how wonderful you really are – how much you see and how much you understand and how much you could express if you just got out of your own way – there would literally be no stopping you.  I wish you could see you the way I do, even if only for five minutes; you’d understand, then, why I jump on you the way I do.  I’m bossy and stern because I want you to figure this out – I want you to see that the only thing holding you back is you and your belief that you’re less than you are.  You are SO much  more than that.

With much affection,

Mrs. Chili

I hope this is one that I can reach.



Filed under compassion and cooperation, I've got this kid...., the good ones

4 responses to “THIS Close…

  1. Hey Mrs. Chili,

    First of all, I’ve followed your blog for a while now and I really love your insight. This is my first year of teaching and I need all the help I can get.

    I commend you on hunting her down. She was able to see the passion in your face and hear the tone of your voice and know that you meant business. To some of them, I think it means a lot to hear somebody tell them that if they make a choice to be great, they can be.

    I think it is so important for them to hear that we care. Not only did you say it to her face, but you also typed it up into a format she can read, over and over, when she starts to doubt or feel badly about herself.

    Way to go, Chili!

  2. …but when does the notion of I must do this because I want to be the best that I can be kick in? Apathy is a killer. We all cannot be great at everything. I know that from my many flaws. But I do desire to be better. Students must desire this. The good news is this: We all figure it out as we get older. And for those that do not, things only get tougher.

  3. s parker

    Anything back?

  4. Ah – what we have to do as teachers to get some kids to see the light.
    You may not get a response now (she is a teenager after all) but I reckon somewhere down the track in her future, she is going to remember what you said to her… and only then will she see the truth. You may not get to witness the ultimate positive consequence of this one, but hopefully there will be one!

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