Last Wednesday at 3:15pm, one of my senior students lingered in the hall, followed me to my classroom, and banged his head against the lockers while he pleaded with me to pass him. Senior final grades were due Wednesday at 5pm. He asked what he could do to raise his 53% to a 60% in the next hour and forty-five minutes.
“Nothing,” I replied. “You’re lucky you’re not repeating a full year of drama,” I callously reminded him. “There is nothing you can do today; you should have participated since January.”
And then he batted his long eye lashes and squeezed out a few tears. The next day in the teachers’ lounge the rumor would ensue: I stood my ground while he bawled his eyes out for hours.
The truth is I am sympathetic and forgiving. I had already given him extensions and extra credit first semester. I had learned my lesson once second semester rolled around.
Additionally, if I were to pass him—which to me is unethical: if the numbers don’t align, then I’d be abusing my power and overriding his grade—it’d actually hurt him more than it would help him.
I strongly believe that the best way to ensure success in life is to build confidence by fostering independence. Like the old adage “Give your children the wings to fly on their own” (or what is it? Did I make that up?), I believe that the best thing you can do for your children is to teach them how to rely on themselves. When I was 19, I wanted independence so fiercely, I bought a one-way ticket to Ireland, packed my bags, and lived a completely financially and socially independent life for almost a year. I learned more in that year than I ever could have in eight years of college or twenty years at a job. I learned how to talk to strangers to get the things I needed: a job, an apartment, a plane ticket to the Czech Republic. I also lived with three strangers and learned how to turn anyone into a friend. I know I can do anything by myself—and I also know that I need to hold myself accountable for anything I do.
Learning to hold yourself accountable for your actions, learning how to create your own successes and recover from your failures, and learning to trust in yourself is an invaluable lesson.
If young people don’t learn that lesson, they will become dependent and irresponsible. So, not only will they become a big, smelly moocher—they will also struggle with feelings of inadequacy, uselessness, and depression.
I’ve failed so many times in my life, and my parents either did not have the time or the money to dig me out of my self-made hole. I’m stronger because they didn’t rescue me! There are many parents who too quickly protect and rescue their children. While involved parents are what most teachers pray for, parents’ over involvement can rapidly become a disservice to their children.
It’s true: I am not a parent, I don’t have my own kids. But I do have 150 kids I see daily who didn’t spend 10 months in my womb. And I care enough about those kids to let them learn the hard way, because I’ve learned the hard way—I continue to learn the hard way (this year was beyond challenging for me, but I didn’t give up). To be strong, capable, resilient, and independent should be what we all want for every member of society. That way, when we do find ourselves in moments of compassion, sympathy, and dependence, they are more satisfying and meaningful to all of us.
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