A Teacher's Perspective
Submitted by Jared Sanchez, Teacher -
So much of who we are as a school goes beyond traditional modalities of education. As a teacher, we often find ourselves inspiring the timid, encouraging the faint and forging the strong. Late last year, I found myself in a very familiar situation that we often face at Opportunities For Learning.
A student needed one-on-one math support for a particularly difficult section in his math unit. I noticed he was in a bad mood and overcome with frustration. Understandably, any normal student who works on math will get frustrated on occasion. However, as I worked with this student, I noticed that his feelings were greatly impeding his ability to get any support. So I laid my cards on the table and explained to him that the reason he was working with me was so that we could understand this section - which would help him pass his exam, which would then help him complete his math requirement, which would help him graduate, and so on and so forth. He was a bit surprised that I took the time to talk to him about the “big picture” of this math tutoring session. I asked him to lay his cards on the table so that we could get to the bottom of his frustration and, hopefully, begin to understand his math.
Essentially his situation was the same as many of our students... he messed up in high school, came to OFL trying to catch up on credits, spent the next season of his life struggling with fears of failure, battled with discipline and motivation to complete units, and now was close to finishing but struggling again with his own previous decisions. The student shared that they wanted to quit, forget that they were close to earning their diploma and just never come back to OFL. I asked why they just wanted to leave OFL altogether and he explained that every time he entered OFL, it was a subtle reminder that he had made poor choices earlier in life.
I simply listened as the student shared, asked any clarifying questions and empathized with his story. Once I got the sense that he felt relieved of his frustration, I told him that I’d like to share some thoughts from my perspective as a teacher. I knew this was an opportunity to mold this young man's character by giving him a larger perspective. So often as teachers, we can miss opportunities to uplift others if we are so caught up in completing an assignment instead of helping the student. With his permission I shared with him my thoughts.
From a teacher's perspective, you are not a failure but a mature young man. Most high school students receive their diploma without any great life challenges, yet you had the opportunity to develop character and perseverance. Though I know you wish you graduated with your friends and had your diploma right around your eighteenth birthday, from my perspective, you are learning something that will take your friend’s years to learn: endurance. From my perspective, you’ve struggled with fears of failure and yet you have displayed courage to keep on going and coming back to OFL every single appointment. Rather than cowering at the fear, you walk into OFL and tell your fears that you will earn your diploma. From my perspective, that takes power. True failure is not falling down. True failure is staying down and not getting back up. Are you here right now pushing through your struggle? From my perspective, that is not failure but grit. People who make a difference in life are not those who fall, they are those who fall, get back up and keep going regardless of fear, opposition or struggle. From my perspective, you are one of these people.
The student listened, reflected and after having spent time thinking over everything, we continued our one-on-one tutoring session. One conversation won’t make the biggest difference in any one person’s life, but what I shared with this young man exemplifies how we see many of our students. Students, parents and many educators may see OFL students as failures for not completing or messing up during their traditional high school experience, yet from a teacher’s perspective, our student’s are the strongest, most courageous and grittiest young adults around.