Monday, October 10, 2011

The Power of Being Positive

I just ended another quarter, the best and worst part of the teaching experience. The best part is seeing students succeed, and surpass their own expectations of what they thought they could do. One student, who could barely put a complete sentence together at the beginning of the quarter last year, was so happy with her "A" on the final research paper that she jumped up and down like she'd just won the showcase on the Price is Rice and zoomed out of the room to call her grandma to tell her the news.

She shouldn't have been so surprised, because she worked her butt off. In general, I have trouble getting students to see the value in multiple rough drafts. She took it to heart, though, and started hunting me down in the hallways daily with a fresh draft in hand. Her determination was impressive.

Like I said, she shouldn't have been surprised at her A, but frankly, if someone had told me I had an A student on my hands, I wouldn't have believed it. I've never seen a student start at such a low level of competency and end up with one of the best papers of the quarter. Now like I said, she worked hard and the credit is all hers, but I did something different with her. I sensed that she'd been beaten down in life more than the average student. She lacked self confidence and had a bevy of personal problems that often interfered with her schoolwork. Most of my students seem to be in this situation, but there was something a little different about her. I decided to only make positive comments about her writing (not an easy task) and offer constructive criticism only when we spoke in person so I could make sure she did not misunderstand the tone or the purpose, and so I would be there to help with a solution. I also decided I needed to take a personal interest in her and let her know I saw great things.

Long story short, I knew something positive was happening when she began looking me in the eye instead of at the floor, and she would wave at me from across the crowded hall. It was also my privilege to be the first to see her new tattoo, which was, er, normally hidden from view.

As the quarter progressed it became easier and easier for me to see the positive traits in this student, when normally, I'm sorry to say, she would have frustrated me with her excuses and absences. Keeping it real, I am often frustrated with students and have to keep my red pen and my comments in check.

She graduated last quarter and she asked me to write her a letter of recommendation. Sometimes I am hesitant to say yes because what I remember about the student was that he or she had to be dragged kicking and screaming through my class. But it was easy with her, because I had been focusing on her positive qualities all along, and was able to make a big deal about her determination and willingness to learn and overcome challenges.

I think of this girl at the beginning of each quarter and try to see the potential in each student. It's impossible to give this much attention to each student, but I'm re-dedicated to the underlying philosophy of students rising to expectations.

Next week is the beginning of the new quarter for me. I have two sections of Humanities, one section of Composition and Critical Reading and one section of Composition and Research. I will stand up in front of the class, I will smile, and I will tell the students that they all have the potential to succeed, and I will remind myself that one part of the equation is me and my own attitude. How easy is it to compliment a student, when the reward can be so big.

I also said the end of the quarter was the worst part. I'll save that for another post, because I'm only thinking positive!

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