When I was 7, I was in Sunday School when someone came to get the kids who had been working in Vacation Bible School on a singing and dancing act to perform. Now I had not been going to VBS because I was not registered, but when I saw that the person who came to get them had candy, I knew I would follow to get the piece of candy. I did not care or worry about the fact I had no idea what the songs were and what the dance moves were. I simply thought that because I wanted the candy, if I showed up, I would be given it and that would be the end of it. We got on stage and everyone started performing, but I had no idea what to do. I stood there frozen. I looked out at the crowd of people and over at my classmates, enjoying the moment, so happily engaged in their moment of expressing what they had learned. But I had nothing to share, nothing to do, no thoughts or motions to add. I had thought that I would find joy in getting the piece of candy, but I realized that there was so much more I was missing from having shown up without ever actually doing anything.
You can’t just show up. You can’t just be a bystander of the world of knowledge surrounding you and expect by some magic of osmosis you will suddenly gain greater understanding. I want my students to believe in their ability to be agents of change; active participants in the world around them. That means that for now, I have to teach hard lessons that strip away the idea that mediocrity gets awarded, and that showing up means you are entitled to awards and benefits. “But, miss, I came to class. But, miss, I wrote some things down.” Not going to make the cut. Not those 9 weeks, and certainly not any 9 weeks or any 9 days or weeks or months or years of this life. Because in THIS life, they must learn that they have to walk straight into a snowstorm without bowing their head, but getting through one struggled step at a time. If they stand still, they’ll be blown over, or worse yet, covered.
So I hand out a D. I hand out the F. And I’m oftentimes on the other end of some student’s happy list, but that’s okay. I can handle that because I remind myself of my vision and that I often have to see what my students are sometimes not able to currently see and keep in mind. Because for them, they honestly believe that I will relinquish this battle and award them for just showing up, just existing, just sitting there letting days pass by.
But the message is clear: the bar has been set, and this is how high you must aim to reach it because it’s not going anywhere else except perhaps a little higher.
Little by little the tide turns. I had students come up to me at the end of last week who told me that they did not do their best or give it their all and they were sorry that they had sold themselves short and disappointed me. They promised to do better. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
And just today I had a girl come back to class from a stint outside for behavior issues and lack of a work ethic. She answered or attempted to answer every question I posed to the class and raised her hand and asked questions and was genuinely excited to be in class and learning. She turned toward the end of class to me and said that class was so much different when she participated and thought about what we were doing.
I said welcome to being a potential game changer.
Here’s to the second nine weeks.