What Students Really Need to Hear

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be honest with you — both in what I say and how I say it?

Here’s the thing: I lose sleep because of you.  Every week.

Before I tell you why, you should understand the truth about school. You see, the main event of school is not academic learning. It never has been. It never will be. And, if you find someone who is passionate in claiming that it is about academics, that person is lying to himself or herself and may genuinely believe that lie. Yes, algebra, essay writing, Spanish, the judicial process —  all are important and worth knowing. But they are not the MAIN event.

The main event is learning how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult — how to overcome problems as simple as a forgotten locker combination, to obnoxious peers, to gossip, to people doubting you, to asking for help in the face of self-doubt, to pushing yourself to concentrate when a million other thoughts and temptations are fingertips away.

It is your resilience in conquering the main event — adversity — that truly prepares you for life after school. Because, mark my words, school is not the most challenging time you will have in life. You will face far greater challenges than these. Sure, you will have times more amazing than you can imagine, but you will also confront incomparable tragedy, frustration, and fear in the years to come.

But, you shouldn’t be worried about the fact that you will face great adversities. You should be worried because you’re setting yourself up to fail at overcoming them. Here’s the real reason I lose hours of sleep worrying about you: You are failing the main event of school. You are quitting.  You may not think you are quitting, but you are because quitting wears many masks.

For some, you quit by throwing the day away and not even trying to write a sentence or a fraction because you think it doesn’t matter or you can’t or there’s no point. But it does. What you write is not the main event. The fact that you do take charge of your own fear and doubt in order to write when you are challenged — THAT is the main event.

Some of you quit by skipping class on your free education. Being punctual to fit the mold of the classroom is not the main event of showing up. The main event is delaying your temptation and investing in your own intelligence — understanding that sometimes short-term pain creates long-term gain and that great people make sacrifices for a greater good.

For others, you quit by being rude and disrespectful to adults in the hallway who ask you to come to class. Bowing to authority is not the main event. The main event is learning how to problem solve maturely, not letting your judgement be tainted by the stains of emotion.

I see some of you quit by choosing not to take opportunities to work harder and pass a class, no matter how far down you are. The main event is not getting a number to tell you you are worthy. The main event is pulling your crap together and making hard choices and sacrifices when things seem impossible.  It is finding hope in the hopeless, courage in the chasm, guts in the grave.

What you need to see is that every time you take the easy way out, you are building a habit of quitting. And it will destroy your future and it will annihilate your happiness if you let it.   Our society cares nothing for quitters.  Life will let you die alone, depressed, and poor if you can’t man or woman up enough to deal with hardship.  You are either the muscle or the dirt.  You either take resistance and grow stronger or blow in the wind and erode.

As long as you are in my life, I am not going to let quitting be easy for you.  I am going to challenge you, confront you, push you, and coach you.  You can whine.  You can throw a tantrum.  You can shout and swear and stomp and cry.  And the next day, guess what?  I will be here waiting — smiling and patient — to give you a fresh start.  Because you are worth it.

So, do yourself a favor: Step up.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.  No blaming.  No quitting.  Just pick your head up.  Rip the cords out of your ears.  Grab the frickin’ pencil and let’s do this.

— C. Mielke

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1,793 Comments Add yours

  1. Kay says:

    I am going to share this with my husband and highschool daughter. I know for a highschool student it is very hard for some to believe teachers really do care. Some have the mind set most teachers are out to get them and make life miserable. This is so well written. Thank you

  2. Ruth Morden says:

    I know you wrote this 2 years ago, but as a high school teacher myself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back and read this over, tears filling my eyes, wishing my students would ‘get it’.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Kevin Elzinga says:

    I should clarify that there are two people with the name Kevin Elzinga working as teachers. One of these teachers lives in Canada. I am a substitute teacher living in the United States. My views on this website do not necessarily reflect his views about teaching.

    1. Carolyn Putney says:

      If it doesn’t, then you should exit the profession.

      1. Lindsey Stone says:

        I am guessing that you are not a teacher Carolyn…or you believe that the entire student population of the United States comes from a suburban, well-educated background. Nothing I have written here is made-up or fictitious….nor is it all negative. Teaching is about recognizing the good and the bad in a classroom and adapting to both. One wouldn’t sail into a hurricane without a plan. Nor should one sail into a classroom of students and assume that ALL of his or her students are law-abiding citizens. It would be NICE if all students were law-abiding, but I assume we have a juvenile justice system for a reason.

      2. kmelzinga says:

        I am guessing that you are not a teacher Carolyn. Nothing I have written here is made-up or fictitious….nor is it all negative. Teaching is about recognizing the good and the bad in a classroom and adapting to both. One wouldn’t sail into a hurricane without a plan. Nor should one sail into a classroom of students and assume that ALL of his or her students are law-abiding citizens. It would be NICE if all students were law-abiding, but I assume we have a juvenile justice system for a reason.

      3. kmelzinga says:

        I am a little bit perplexed as to why some respondents to my posts are determined to see only the posts that address the negative side of teaching. I am also confused as to why some respondents believe that a teacher can simply will his or her belief system on to the entire class and ignore the beliefs that some of the students might have that run completely counter to society’s norms. A child who was taught at home how to steal and deal drugs is not going to change simply because the teacher wills it.

    2. But a student must want to learn. Some are at an age when they know they are making a mess of their lives and it is a conscious decision. Somewhere is the expectation that someone will pick up the pieces and help them out. Maybe they will. But kids with this attitude should be told loud and clear that maybe there will be no help and it is all up to them.

  4. Lyla Jeanne says:

    This is AMAZING. My youngest son just started college. I have three sons. I’ve struggled with these issues with all of them. I’m going to print this out for them (and me) to read over and over again. I would sell my soul to be able to reach them. This helps put into words what I’m trying to teach them. Thank you ❤️

  5. Patricia Deaton Perry, M.N.,R.N. says:

    Fantastic!

  6. Wonderfully said! I must give this to my three Grandsons. One already graduated, one in a special program where he only goes to school two times a week and picks up packets to work on and return to the teacher. This breaks my heart because I am not sure where he is headed. He is a wonderful compassionate child with a heart of gold and is always ready to help someone less fortunate than he is. And the other one is in the seventh grade and gets A’s and B’s and his homework and grades come first. Our world needs more teachers like the writer of this story and feelings for these kids! Thank you, Linda Staniger

  7. Christin says:

    At some point each semester I share this with my students. A couple weeks after I read it to my classes last spring a struggling girl came to me and told me that she was failing 3 classes weeks before graduation and really just wanted to throw in the towel in her math class but she couldn’t get what I read out of her head, she didn’t want to quit on herself. So she put pencil back to paper and made it to graduation.
    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve always wanted my students to know.

  8. Harold says:

    I am approaching. 80 years of age and each of the challenges listed here I have face in life. What I am so thankful for is the people in my life that Cared, from my teachers to my family. I have always said to my children to give 110% in all their functions. Why, so if you falter you still have a huge % to pick you up and keep going. Never quit because too many care for you.

  9. Tamar Bar Ilan says:

    Wow. What an insperation. I am an English teacher in Israel, and in our school, even though it is not being said out loud, it is all about the grades. And even though I am obligated to the school’s policy, I try very hard to teach my students that the mark is not what’s important, but the way that they work for it. The way that they work for themselves. You write in a wonderful way all the things that I believe in, but had a hard time really explaining what I think or feel. So thank you so much! You are truly an insperation of a person.

  10. Bonnie Meyer says:

    Wow ! So so true and well written. Thank You !

  11. riverflow79 says:

    This is amazing, and I keep trying to tell my students this but never have I seen these thoughts so well written. May I share this with my class, with your permission? Your name will be mentioned.

  12. crazyxsilva says:

    Great post Chase. I am looking forward to make a whatsapp community for people out here.. Who are interested in passing out positive vibration and to have a good talk. I am looking forward for your help Chase, we really can built a good community.. For making communication better. If interested please inform me

  13. andrea roe says:

    yes. I love this. so so true.

  14. Gary Maly MEd., LSW says:

    Thank you for this post Chase. Very familiar feel. As a retired Juvenile Probation Officer, I have always had a special attraction to the At Risk Student and now work part time for the Educational Services Center facilitating skills groups with students in our Alternative School, most of whom have bought/own the tag of “Throw Away Student” and are very vocal about their disconnect from traditional education. Just today, we talked about resilience, reframing, and Charles Swindol’s paraphrased quote:
    “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I chose to react to it”.
    Adults who care, when living on the streets, is a real stretch for this group.

  15. lynn oliver says:

    I hope we can begin provide continuous, long-term hope to continually change and improve our lives. I hope we can remove the false teachings of genetic permanence in abilities that were assumed as a part of evolution. I hope we can begin to show students at least two large variables: 1. That when correctly defined, we can see average stress as many unresolved layers of mental work which take up real mental energy from many past, present, future – experiences, values, needs, responsibilities/concern for others, and other areas: anything that creates unresolved mental work and is maintained in the mind as layers of mental work, which take away real mental energy. This also includes many (some very faulty) weights and values created from a young age onward, which may create beliefs or cores from which other conflicts will remain and add to other maintained layers of mental frictions or conflicts. It shows how our individual environments are very different for all of us, creating a continuum of many essential and “non-essential layers of mental work” that are maintained by our minds and “can be more permanently reduced” to continually improve thinking, learning, reflection, and help improve mental/emotional health. These many maintained layers of mental work take away real mental energy from all of us.
    I hope this variable/tool and the added second tool of understanding how pace and intensity of approaching mental work can be used more correctly (slower for newer mental work) to also help improve long-term learning and motivation to learn. We need to provide this sense of equality and time to create changes to continually change and improve our lives in any area we desire over time. Learning theory mayfieldga@gmail.com

    1. chasemielke says:

      I appreciate the invitation to reading your response. It might surprise you but we may have more in common than you think with our desire to change school systems.

      1. P Flooers says:

        It would be interesting to hear more about what we have in common. Do you mean to say we simply agree reform should happen? Or do you suspect we share notions of how the system could be reformed?

        Have you noticed tremendous administrative resistance to genuine reform — even despite current pedagogical research? Reforming the system by offering more of what the system already does, or nominally tweaking curriculum, or urging the children to try harder isn’t reform. We all have noticed that the system doesn’t serve teachers well, much less the students. Have you ever noticed that the curriculum, the timeline, and the techniques of institutional pedagogy are not based on solid research? They are based on very old and arbitrary theories, long since proven lacking. Yet they persist. Persistence in a broken system doesn’t make sense. And drilling children to persist in broken systems leads to a society deeply averse to change, when those children become adults. Do you see how this is circular and self perpetuating?

  16. Patricia Sampson says:

    I just read this and hope that it inspires everyone who takes the time to read and understand what is being said, what is being encouraged and what is not being said. Not only teachers and students will benefit from this but this information can be used in improving personal/social dealings; and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a school setting with students.

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