Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Pep Talk I Wish I Would Have Given

Remember the scene from "You've Got Mail" when Shopgirl (Meg Ryan) is lamenting to NY152 (Tom Hanks) about her inability to have a satisfactory retort on the spot whenever someone says something to her that causes some sort of distress?

That's me. 

I'm always thinking of just the right thing to say about 6 hours later. And it's not just when I'm under pressure that this happens. It happens for completely random conversations too. And sometimes it can take much longer than 6 hours. 

How about 12 months later? 

This is what happened to me last night. As I was going through my nightly routine of getting ready for bed, a former student, let's call him Harold, randomly popped into my thinking. 

Harold was a hard case. He came to us as an 8th grader late last year. He had earned his way out of the alternative educational center and back into the regular classroom. But before he was at the alt school, he had bounced around from school to school, always getting into trouble. Not surprisingly, his home life sucked and as a result of all of this - his trust in adults, especially female teachers, was dirt-bottom low. And he found himself with us, four very strong-willed veteran teachers. Some might call that karma. For him, it was a blessing - he just didn't see it at the time. 

Like I said, Harold came to us late in the year. And in that short amount of time we worked and worked with him. And we began to see progress. For example, he actually spoke to us without grunting. He began turning assignments in. Then he began participating in my STEM challenges. He became a leader of a group because he could build the perfect paper airplane. 

But his confidence when it came to testing was shaky at best. He had never been a "good student". It took a lot of effort on our part to just to get him to attempt the state assessments and not completely shut down.

At one point, the four of us strong-willed veteran teachers had a sit down with Harold. We used all of the growth mindset, positive talk we could think of. And it seemed to help some. After all, he managed to make it to the 8th grade promotion ceremony.

But last night as I was getting ready for bed, the following conversation began in my mind and I wish that I could have said these words to Harold. Shoot, I wish I could have said these words to many junior high students that sat in my classroom over the years.

Harold, you like cars right? 


Imagine having an old Mustang convertible sitting up on blocks on the side of your home. It used to be drive-able, like for going to the grocery store. But over time, it just wasn't used much and now it just sits there.


Now imagine that your dad tells you that you're going to go on a road trip for your birthday. And as an gift, he's going to give you that old Mustang to fix up so that he and you can go to all sorts of places. How would that be?

Cool, I guess. I'd get a car.

Yeah! Exactly! Now imagine that you are that car. You used to be all shiny and new but now you just sit up on those blocks wondering if your owners have completely forgotten about you. But then like a miracle, you hear that you're going to be given new life! You're going on a road trip! If you were that car, Harold, how would you feel?

I don't know, I'm not a car. 

Just pretend, Harold. What might that be like?

Good, I guess.

Good!?! How about GREAT! That Mustang was made for driving with the top down and the music up! If you were that car, you would be thrilled because you were finally going to fulfill your purpose - to do what you were created to do! 

I guess.

Ok, so what would have to happen in order to get that car in working condition? You'd have to get it new tires and off the blocks, yeah? You'd have to change the oil, grease up the engine. Maybe replace or repair broken parts, right?


Would it be easy? Would it be quick? Would it be nice and clean? Heck no! 

I guess.

Harold, YOU are that car! And your brain is the engine. And we, Mrs. H, Mrs. A, Mrs. C and me are your mechanics. You've been sitting on the sidelines of class for way too long and now it's time to get back on the road. But in order for you to be ready, there are a few things that we are trying to do so that your "road trip" in school is successful and you don't go breaking down on us in the middle of your adventure. 

You were created to think, and to learn, and to create! And we're giving you the opportunity to do what you were born to do! Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's frustrating. But we're really good at what we do! You've got to trust us! There is only one thing that could sabotage all this work that we're willing to do in order to get you ready for doing well in school. Any idea what that could be?

I don't know.

Ok, what would happen if you put diesel gas into an unleaded engine? 

It would ruin everything. 

Exactly. Your attitude is like the gas that will make the engine inside your head go or stall. If you have a negative attitude thinking that everything sucks, all of the work that we're doing with you, will be for nothing. But, if you have a positive attitude, nothing will be able to stop you. You'll be able to keep going for as long as you want. 

Harold. We see you as a kid that has a lot to offer. We need you to work with us in making sure that you're ready to go out into the world and be an active participant with something to contribute. You can do this! It'll take a lot of hard work, but remember, we're really good at what we do and we will not let you down.

If only...Harold moved on to another placement sometime during the first semester. I have no idea how he's doing. I wish him the best. I wish all of those hard-knocked kids the best. I hope that there are adults in their lives that are "good mechanics" willing to put the effort in to restoring something much more valuable than a classic Mustang convertible. 

If you're still working in the classroom and have daily contact with a difficult student, do me a favor and do whatever it takes to breathe in new life to that child. He/she is worth the effort. 

Offering my BEST to you!

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1 comment:

  1. Great post! I, too, reflect long after conversations, and loved that scene in You've Got Mail! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.