Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lessons From My Students

Today's post is inspired by lessons from my students. There has been a lot of excuse making going on lately, and "Ms. Austin" is not particularly happy about it. I will now share with you the mistakes my students make and what I've learned from them.

Disability as Inability

Some of my students do have disabilities. These could be physical, learning, or even just circumstantial (not speaking English as a native language or not being familiar with technology for example). Some of my students work past their disabilities. They do their best, turn in their work, try hard, and serve as an inspiration to me day in and out of how to overcome obstacles. Other students turn these disabilities into so called inabilities. "I can't do it. I don't have time to do it. I don't get how to do it." These phrases are uttered far too much inside my classroom. I know my students can do the work, but instead of spending their energy trying their best, they spend energy coming up with excuses for why they won't even attempt the work. In elementary school, I had a teacher who would say "Build a Bridge, Get Over It." She didn't just mean this as a funny expression, she meant it as a metaphor. Everyone has disabilities. There is not a single one of us who doesn't have a challenge or obstacle of some sort. But we all have to build our own bridges. We all have to do what we have to do in order to get ourselves through the class (or through the job, challenge, day, etc.) If we say to ourselves, "I have a disadvantage because of this, but I am still able to do that," we are on the way to success. If we say to ourselves, "I have a disadvantage because of this, so I will never be able to do that," then we never even give ourselves the opportunity to succeed.

But I'm Special 

I cannot even count the number of students I've come across over the years who feel they are exceptions to the rule. I can't do work because: I registered late, I'm a parent, I'm going through this tough thing, I'm an athlete, I'm injured, etc, etc. Today, a student told me he couldn't do his work because he plays golf a lot. I wish I was kidding. In order to make progress, we all must turn off our egos. Everyone has concerns, but everyone must be treated equal. For example, an employer will expect the same out of an employee whether or not that employee has children, hobbies, or problems, or whether he or she is single, has no interests, and lives a conflict free life. We cannot just stand idly by expecting others to accommodate our every want and need. Instead, we have to make due with what we've got and make choices about how we'll accommodate ourselves. For example, sometimes we may have to start work early, or stay late, you know, if our golfing schedules become really demanding.

I Didn't Try

Perhaps the worse choice a student (and person) can make is an utter and absolute waste of his or her potential. Today, some of the students in my literature and writing class flat out admitted, "I didn't read this. I didn't try to read this." They know how to read, but just decided not to. After the class discussion, some of them decided the stories sounded rather interesting, and they wished they had read. I've given the speech many times about not taking education for granted. Many people in other countries and our own have limited opportunities or access to education that others so readily take for granted. If you are lucky enough to be in school, or lucky enough to have a job, give your work a best faith effort. The world cannot function if we all just "throw in the towel." Some of my students apologized to me, and while I am disappointed in them, I had to point out, they really owe the apology to themselves. When you don't commit yourself to something that is important, when you slack off, or when you neglect your own development, who do you really disappoint? Yourself. At the end of the day, that is the only person we're all accountable too. And hey kids, Ms. Austin did all the reading. Multiple times.

Here's to no more excuses,
Ms. A, L&Z


  1. I can really identify with this and I'm definitely going to use the bridge metaphor with some of my students!! Thanks for reminding me that I can learn from my students, as I try to teach them how to be successful in their academic and future lives!

  2. Thanks for your blog. Leah and I deal with this everyday. My mom always said "Can't means you don't want to". It's so true. I use it with my kids, my friends and my students. I try very hard not to use the word can't. If a student is asking for something and it's not possible or completely unreasonable, I own the decision and say "I won't". Laura Chromzack

  3. Hi Laura and Leah,

    Thanks for reading. It is always nice to hear from other teachers. Teaching is very challenging, but highly rewarding. It can be stressful, but I take that as a sign that I really care about my students and want to give them the best education possible. If I didn't care enough to ask for their best work, I wouldn't be doing them any favors!


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