When One Sentence Changes the Way You See Your Job

Sometimes all it takes is a few words from a student to completely change your perspective.

Student Quotes That Changed the Way I Think About Teaching

When I became an educator, I dreamed of skills I would teach my students. I had a vision of how I could help them become independent readers, thoughtful writers, and inquisitive thinkers. Yet, some of the greatest lessons learned were the ones they taught me. Here are some of the most memorable student quotes that changed the way I think about teaching.

“I want to do the same work as everyone else.”

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He said it while looking me straight in the eyes. I began to think about the accommodations I assumed this student wanted to receive. It hadn’t occurred to me to give him the option of trying to complete his work without extra support, afraid he’d feel unable or unsupported. I realized he wanted to at least attempt the same version of work as his peers, and I had simply never thought about it. His request humbled me, not only as a teacher but as a person who understands the desire to prove what I can do, even if just to myself.

“I’m not good at reading. I never have been.”

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He was laughing and sat slumped in his chair, but when I glanced at his paper, I saw he had attempted a few broken sentences. There’s a common misconception that if a kid isn’t trying, they just don’t care, but I don’t believe this. Some kids don’t try because they fear embarrassment or because they’re aware they haven’t mastered a skill. His response wasn’t one of indifference but rather, the product of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the biggest battles we face as educators are the ones that already exist within our kids.

“The best part of my day is your class.”

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My student said this in the middle of discussion. “You talk to us normally. You listen. Not all teachers are like that, so I always look forward to coming to your class.” I had been warned about this student’s disrespect from the beginning of the school year, but I had refused to let pre-conceived judgments deter my belief in her. And it had paid off. I believe this applies to many students. When we show compassion to even our most so-called difficult students, we have the potential to build transformative relationships that can alter not only their trust in us as their teachers, but also their belief in themselves.

“Thank you for never giving up on me.”

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The message was accompanied by a snapshot of a college acceptance letter. Two years prior, class had felt like the ultimate tug-of-war battle with this student. “Sit up,” with the response of “I’m tired.” You can do it,” with the response of “No I can’t.” I received news from a colleague that he planned to drop out, so I asked to discuss this choice with him. He told me he was decided, but he would hear me out. We spoke of realities that may come with not having a high school diploma in this society. I told him to think about his decision over the weekend. Two days later, I received a message saying, “I decided to finish senior year. Thank you for everything!” I thought about how inexperienced I was when he had me as a teacher, yet he had never given up on me. We need our kids to believe in us just as much as they need us to believe in them.

“Why would you want to be a teacher?”

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I didn’t realize my students were questioning why I was even there, some telling me I had better options to choose from. The innocence of their inquiries re-grounded me in why I became an educator. Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” The work we put in today has the potential to change the trajectory of a kid’s future.

“You’re too nice. You need to be more strict.”

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Those were not the words I wanted to hear from my student, whose earnest eyes admitted what I already knew. I had been under the impression that if my kids loved me, they would always listen to me. I became the chill teacher who was beginning to experience the horrors of behavior management with some of her students. It wasn’t about being too nice, though. It was my own misconception that if I were too disciplinary, my ability to form positive relationships with students would be hindered. After this comment, I slowly started figuring out the balance.

“I can’t believe I wrote that.”

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My student said this as I placed his essay in front of him. Having failed the 10th grade twice, he had a sense of aversion to receiving graded work back. For the first time, I saw him have the courage to look at his peers’ essays and proudly show them his own. Some students despise assessments because they repeatedly receive the same result. There is an endless amount of pressure on school leaders, teachers, and students to perform well. The need for celebration in even the smallest moments helps build the confidence and pride that exists at the heart of achievement and success.

Can you think of student quotes that have changed the way you think about your job? We’d love to hear about them in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook. WeAreTeachers Chat is a place to post questions, share a laugh or an idea, and connect with new teacher friends.

 

Erika Lai

Posted by Erika Lai

Erika Lai is in her third year of teaching tenth grade English at YES Prep Public Charter Schools. She specifically teaches in underprivileged communities in an attempt to provide education to all kids no matter their zip code or socio-economic status.

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