It’s Not Enough to Believe in Your Students

My first year teaching was one of tremendous self-growth. I graduated from college with the belief that I would conquer the world one student at a time. I thought there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do and that I was going to make more difference than anyone who came before me out of sheer hard work.

I entered my first interview and job with that belief never wavering. It didn’t matter to me that I had a job in a district that was considered a critical needs district. It didn’t matter to me that I was entering a district that was considered a failing district. It didn’t even matter to me that I had a classroom that didn’t have a bulletin board on the wall and the walls cried when it rained outside. I was going to change the world and I dared anyone to tell me that it couldn’t be done.

It was about 30 days into school when I started to waver in my belief. I put my all into teaching the 180 sixth grade minds that I was given. I was determined that they would show tremendous growth from the 5th grade Science test that they had taken the previous year. I was determined to show the naysayers that would tell me that Science isn’t a priority or that I was working too hard on a subject that wasn’t tested. It took about 30 days for their words to begin to crack my belief in not only myself, but in my students.

Every week we had objective tests to analyze how the students performed on the tested objective. The first few times my students didn’t do well on the analysis, I wrote it off. “They weren’t focused… they hadn’t understood the questions…the concept needed more than one week.” I was pulling excuses from everywhere to explain why my students weren’t growing.

So as I was looking for excuses, my principal was tired of taking excuses. She was looking for answers that I didn’t have and that’s when the “YOU” questions began.   How are YOU teaching this objective? How are YOU assessing this objective? What do YOU feel contributed to the students not performing at 80% on this objective? How are YOU going to review, reteach, and retest this object?

Sitting in a data meeting with her as she asked me these questions, it hit me: “maybe I am not cut out to do this.” Maybe the problem isn’t the students, but it’s me. I was the problem and I didn’t know how I could fix me. It devastated me!

Teaching was all that I ever wanted to do and in my warped thinking I wasn’t a good teacher and this wasn’t for me. That realization made me sick to my stomach. I literally made myself sick to the point that I developed an ulcer. By Thanksgiving Break, I was prepared to give her my resignation.

As I sat in her office, I remember her asking me one important question,   “ Do you believe in these kids”?

I replied instantly “Yes”! They are the reason I am leaving because they deserve a better teacher than me. Her words to me were “if you believe in these kids then you MUST believe in yourself because they draw from you.”

It’s like a light bulb came on and it exposed the mutualistic relationship that I had with my students. We needed each other and we influenced each other. The more I doubted myself, the more my belief in them wavered. There was a reason that their performance was dwindling. It was that my belief in myself was also dwindling.

Since that year, I have entered the classroom with the motto that WE are conquerors. My students and I are a unit. I am not out here solo because we have each others’ back. I believe in them because they believe in me.