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Not Enough: Project 180, Day 59


Though I have not fully processed all that I learned from the recent midterm conferences, I have reached a humbling conclusion. My dedication is not enough. Despite my commitment to lead and support my kids along their journey, in the end, if that’s all it is, then it is simply not enough. If kids aren’t motivated and if parents aren’t involved, then all that I do is not enough. Oh, it alone might nudge kids along from time to time, but a push here and a pull there won’t get kids to the top of this year’s summit. A sad, simple fact. But I deign to dwell in apathy because in the struggle, I found success. But I did not do it alone.

Recently, as I shared, I had a tough conference–maybe the toughest of my career. And while it certainly threw me for a loop that has not quite come to rest, yesterday the swirl slowed, and I saw the unfortunate situation in a new light. Unexpectedly, I had a newly motivated student on my hands, one who was diving into the work with a diligence yet seen. On top of that, this student turned in an exemplary essay that I will seek to use as a model in the future.

Of course, I don’t really know what the new motivation means. I certainly don’t see it as affirmation or acceptance of my approach, but the motivation is undoubtedly there. And that is all that matters. Teachers have to be dedicated. Students have to be motivated. Parents have to be involved. And that is what happened. No, I did not enjoy my at-odds moments with this particular parent, and it will bother me for some time, but in the end, if it has motivated her child, then that is what really matters. I want to believe that even if the divide between our perspectives is miles wide, ultimately we want the same thing: success for the child.

Another conference. A different situation. Another success. Two days before conferences, Sally (name changed) came to me after the bell. She came to apologize. Caught off guard, I continued to listen as she shared with me that she had taken to heart my recent comments about the necessity of practice for growth, that if they weren’t doing, they weren’t growing. She had spoken to her parents about it, and they instructed her to come and talk to me. She had also been instructed to let me know that they would be at conferences. Touched by both her courage and honesty, I let her know how much I appreciated her coming to me and that I looked forward to meeting with her parents.

“We are here to be cheerleaders. We aren’t here to punish Sally. We are here to encourage and help.” I have had this on replay in my head ever since. Sally’s dad, looking to Sally to mom to me, shared this during the conference, and it lifted my spirit. Of course, that spirit would soon be crushed. But that’s another story. Anyway, Sally up to the point of the conference, had done little to no work. ┬áBut with her new cheer squad in tow, she made a public pronouncement that evening, rededicating herself to her learning. And for the few days before Thanksgiving break, she, too, was a newly motivated student.

But yesterday, I feared it only a mirage as she came to me and told me that she could not print her essay. This, folks, is not a new one for English teachers. To be sure, it’s the equivalent of “my dog ate my homework” of old. Seeking to assure her that it would be fine to get it to me the next day, I tried to hide my doubt and disappointment, but she, rejecting any potentially patronizing reassurance, insisted that it was in her Google Docs. I told her that she could email it to me then. And before I could walk back to my desk, it was in my inbox. Abashed by my doubt and disappointment, I praised her for getting it in. No mirage. Made my day. I emailed her parents last night with “Sally Rocks!” in the subject line.

Another success. But only because of a shared commitment. I cannot do it alone. Sally cannot do it alone. Parents cannot do it alone. We all play equal parts. And that is humbling. But it is also liberating. I can only control my part of the triad. I cannot control a student’s motivation. I cannot control a parent’s involvement. But I can control my dedication. And so, I will. It’s all I can do–even if it’s not enough.

Happy Tuesday, all. Sorry about the no-post yesterday. Won’t burden you with the details. Just glad to be back at it.

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