Chase Mielke

Author. Speaker. Well-Being Expert.

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

➡️ Invite Chase to Speak at Your School or Event.

1,802 responses to “What Students Really Need to Hear”

  1. It’s a bad idea to say frickin’ at the end of an article it sets a bad example for a teacher, but other wise great article, now I don’t have to go to school anymore

  2. I’m a mum of a student who is giving up because he feels he is not motivated I tried to explain that he is giving up on himself and his future if he keeps blaming other people I read what you said and it’s so true so I would like to share it on my face book as I have many friends who are seeing the same problem in their children

  3. […] That might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. A good teacher wants you to succeed, not only just so that they don’t have to (try to) teach you the same stuff again the next year, but because they want to be good at their job, which is teaching you things and preparing you for life. So here’s an article by a teacher, to his students, about that very thing. From Affective Living, “What students really need to hear”: […]

      • I echo Brie’s remarks.

        Don’t give up the fight. I hope my criticism has not discouraged you. I would like you to become an even better teacher. You have the right attitude, but maybe not all the right approaches. I can’t claim to have all the answers either, but it helps to branch out as much as possible and adapt to the culture that you are working with.

        I hope you believe that.

    • Tell your student, “Thank you.” I teach elementary school, but her words touched me deeply and brought me to tears. We need to hear the encouragement just as much as the students do.

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  6. My godson was deeply moved by your article. His 10th grade english teacher gave it to him and he said, “I think this is the way she feels.” Then he drew an amazing illustration of the message (not required work but because they had been talking about symbolism.) My godson also has autism and deals with severe anxiety. He is fully included in a public school with an exceptional support system of many teachers who think like you. THANK YOU!

  7. Evan Thiele is my younger brother. He is starting his teaching career. My teaching career will end in 6 weeks. I will make sure my students hear this before I go.

  8. I have to admit I was a quitter. I found school boring and rarely went to class in high school. This is not to say that is ok. Just saying I was bored. When I became a single mom and returned to school I loved it. If I had to miss a class I was not happy about it. 4.0 average it was my goal to get 1900 on every assignment test exam. I CHALLENGED MYSELF and it was fun to me I seriously enjoyed exams *(i know I have been told I am crazy) oh yes and even though I did not attend many classes in high school I always handed in assignments did tests etc. And passed at 17 I was done. So some kids may be bored jyst saying

  9. I’ve read this post every day for two weeks…when a colleague sent it to me. I’m incredibly inspired by you. You write beautifully and clearly have a beautiful heart for young people. I teach in the suburbs of Kansas City. Do you have an AVID program? If so, you would be an excellent addition to the program. My best, Kelsey

  10. Omg… in all honesty this truly made me tear up. It’s simply beautiful, and thank you, you gave me the motivation I needed to get my ass up and NOT be a quitter anymore.

  11. Giving up when you are in school isn’t necessarily the end of it all. Sometimes one is just too young and immature and life provides second chances. I was a high school dropout and my future seemed quite dark. Guess what? I have a master’s degree and a pretty awesome career despite raising a child on my own. I just had to grow up and find something I was passionate about to give it a try with all my might.

    • Good for you!!!! That being said, a lot of people not mature enough for highschool stay that way so we are just trying to avoid that.

    • You sound like my daughter who is a freshman and miserable because she is not ready for the responsibility of high school. I don’t know how to help her help herself, but hope she gets the second chance that you did if she needs it.

  12. Pulling through for abstract principles at the sacrifice of your one and only life, excuse of the educated underpaid and over worked.

  13. Thank you. I want so share this with my students because I feel the same way, but I also want to read it to myself again and again, because too often when faced with these attitudes, I want to quite myself. Thanks for the kick in the seat.

  14. This is a great inspirational piece asking students to put forth more (or, in some cases, any) effort, and for the students that are “only lacking motivation”, I feel like this is a great resource. I do want to add a few cents, for what it is worth, based on my own experiences in education. I do not post online like this often, so pardon anything out of the ordinary and my general rambling.

    I think and have observed many students in circumstances where simply asking them to try harder (or at all) is not productive or can even be damaging. I do not teach K-12 students, but I do teach various science courses at a research university and have interacted with thousands of undergraduates during my time here. In this context, I am most experienced with the standard, stressed, “pre-med” student. There is a pervasive culture of “work harder not smarter” in post-secondary education apparent in the courses up through the research faculty and administration. Although we are (far too) slowly changing this culture in academia, the current state of affairs leaves many graduates (and faculty) mentally worn and in some cases dangerously damaged. I do not know how or if this translates to pre-university education, but we are slowly learning to address this issue at the undergraduate level by spending our resources trying to understand why a student doesn’t care or isn’t applying themselves. Asking this question has led us to develop programs within the university that have greatly improved the lives and education of our students (especially that would not normally graduate). I cannot agree more with the statement that the educational establishment (K-Grad level) is meant to teach more than the concepts found in a textbook and that enduring a struggle is a critical part of adolescent growth. I pause at the blanket message to students that they should try harder. We are learning that the message should rather be, “what is preventing you from trying harder?,” “what is the source of your apathy, rude behavior, etc.?” (at least for our students). I do not doubt that the author understands this and I would be shocked if this were as novel to K-12 educators as it is to our university faculty, but I couldn’t leave this post without commenting in case there is a student out there struggling and, for him/her, “trying harder” could only make the situation worse.

    My message to him or her is: if you are struggling to try/care/function and something just isn’t working, this is a concern that should be addressed. There isn’t anything “wrong” with you, but the piece of your education that goes beyond textbook knowledge (the piece both the author and I agree is the most important part) may “need a little tutoring”. There is absolutely NO REASON to be ashamed of finding yourself in this situation- you are far from alone, even if you can’t see it happening to others. Ideally, everyone would have access to a mental health professional to address these concerns and not every person should be medicated or anything in that vein. If you do not have such access, there are other people out there that can help you. I have no doubt that the author is one of those people. Let’s work smarter, not just harder. Let’s “try smarter”, not just harder. Don’t you dare give up, but make sure you are “trying” the right way. There are people out there, like this teacher or your professor, who are spending their nights thinking about your success.

  15. Love this article. It was a good reminder of why students quit. Put things into perspective. Thank you for your insight. I am sharing this article with my fellow teachers!

  16. Yeah…this guy is just a little to concerned with kids. He needs to leave the life advice to the parents. Know your role teacher..

    • parents need their own life advice, they are a mess… or most children would NOT be… there is nothing he said here that was hurtful or unusable advice to either… know thyself, holier-than-thou, demonstrative critic… yet, i know that any advice will only fall on willing ears regardless of the source…

      • Life advice is life advice no matter who it comes from.

        Unfortunately, not every parent wants to acknowledge that….even if the unsolicited advice ends up saving the life of one of their own kids.

        While working as a supervisor in a rural area, I once advised a couple elementary children on how to recognize a shot gun shell if they happened to stumble upon one so that they would know to avoid it.

        It is a well known fact that elementary playgrounds often become adolescent playgrounds after dark and sometimes adolescents bring beer and shotguns to these after-school parties.

        Are they supposed to? No. Of course not.

        But adolescents often like to scoff at the rules and blow off steam. In rural areas, this can include firing several rounds off in the woods.

        So, there is a chance, albeit it low, that elementary kids might, at some point, find a shotgun shell on the playground whether parents want such a thing to happen or not.

        If these children remain ignorant of what a shotgun shell is, they might think it is some cool, bangy thing that shoots out pretty sparks or springy snakes.

        Kids really CAN be that ignorant. I know I was that ignorant when I found a shotgun shell near my elementary school. I very nearly threw the shot gun shell because I thought it might makes some sort of cool fireworks display.

        Fortunately, my parents had taught me to be cautious around things I did not know anything about so luckily there wasn’t a tragedy that day. When my father told me what I had nearly done, I didn’t sleep for a couple days.

        Nevertheless, some parents did not appreciate me passing along the wisdom that I learned from my childhood. To them, what I did was tantamount to treason.

        So I wound up being dismissed from that school.

        Perhaps some parents firmly believe that ignorance is bliss and I suppose I can respect that.
        Some kids really don’t use knowledge or wisdom wisely.

        However, ignorance can also be deadly.

        For example, it could be argued that kids who bring nuts to school are unwittingly playing Russian roulette with the lives of other children at that school.

        Should it be up to the parents to advise their own children about allergies that may not even apply to their own children?

        If the answer is a resounding yes, then perhaps it is time to close all of our schools and allow parents to control every aspect of how our society evolves.

        If parents wind up having ALL the say in how their children grow up with no input from anyone else, I guarantee, in 100 years, our society will return to the Dark Ages much like a marching band without a conductor will stumble and descend into a cacophony of chaos.

        Eclipses would be blamed on witches and suspected witches would be rounded up for interrogation, trial and execution.

        Ignorance and fear of the devil are powerful forces in society. History has proven that time and time again, but the evidence of that power continues to fall on the deaf ears of stubborn parents.

        Knowledge and wisdom are the only things that allows us to manage that fear in a rational manner.

        So, in defense of the teacher who wrote this blog, I say, continue offering the life advice. Your efforts might one day save a life or two.

  17. Firstly, I would like to thank you for your article. It helped me to reflect on my own experiences as a fourth year biology student in university. With my utmost respect, there are certain things that I disagree with. I apologize if my writing isn’t polished, but here are a few key thoughts I had while reading your article:

    – Seems like you do not trust that students know best for themselves in that moment. Or perhaps, if we dig a little deeper, there’s an aspect of you that doesn’t trust yourself.
    – I was valedictorian of both my grade school and high school. I had one of the top averages of my school. Trust me when I say that I understand this mentality of working hard. I was raised on it. I ‘pushed through’ academically even with the deep emotional consequences that came along. But, that is the problem. You pushing a student to work harder only encourages the student to disrespect their own boundaries, do what is not self-loving, and assign their self-worth on things that they are not passionate for. As you state, you are not testing a student on their knowledge, but rather, on this “main event.” This main event being to do what is not self-loving in the moment.
    – However, I do agree that growth results when faced by adversity. One can only understand happiness by having known sadness. I wouldn’t know what I know today if I hadn’t hit rock-bottom last year (largely due to the emotional stress from my 17 years of schooling).
    – Your writing suggests that you have an underlining belief that the future is dangerous; maybe not the best thing to teach children. Rather than encouraging students to push through any future tragedy, teach them to sit with their own emotions and do what feels good to them.
    – What if your students actually weren’t setting themselves up for failure by not excelling in your class? For that matter, what is failure? What is success? What if they were doing what is right for them, in that moment? What if it’s in our nature to shift our attention away from things that we don’t want to learn? Let’s dig deeper. Why is it not ok for them to not try in a class that they don’t enjoy or have a natural act for? Take your answer, and keep asking yourself why that might be so bad. Find your core belief and think about how you might have developed it. Here’s an example: Why might is it bad to not try in class? Because I won’t learn how to face adversity. Why might that be so bad? Because I won’t be prepared. Why might that be so bad? Because I will fail. Why might that be so bad? Because failing means that I am not good enough. Why might that be so bad? Because if I’m not good enough, there is no point to living. (Of course, answers will vary from person-to-person).
    – By pushing your students to keep doing what they don’t want to do, such as writing a sentence or adding fractions, you are making them develop a negative relationship with the idea of learning. In my opinion, learning should be approached with curiosity. It’s the difference between students wanting to learn because it’s interesting and students having to learn because they’re forced to. Notice how ‘effort’ is distributed in these last two options. Think about why students celebrate snow days with the utmost joy. We have approached education in a way where children are happiest when they are not in the classroom setting.
    – It is apparent that you have a core belief that sacrifice is needed for greater good. Think about it, we are teaching students that we must suffer in order to be happy. I must do things that make me unhappy in order to be happy. Does this make sense? A happy life is simply an accumulation of small happy moments.
    – Think about the difference between the word “motivate” and “inspire.” “Motivate” implies that effort is being put forth. “Inspire” is almost effortless because one is acting on their own happiness. We should inspire students, not motivate.
    – “not letting your judgement be tainted by the stains of emotion.” Emotions act as an internal guidance system. When we invalidate and disregard our emotions, we ignore what is best for ourselves both short-term and long-term.

    – There is nothing wrong with quitting. People evolve and develop new desires. There is a certain beauty in quitting things (unless they are quitting something that they want) because it is the moment that an individual acknowledges what they desire. They evaluate what is most self-loving and act on their emotions. That is our natural way of being. Life shouldn’t be approached with a hard hand, but rather, with softness. Do not push your students. Instead, inspire them to pursue the things that they love. Because, as you put it, they are worth it.

    • This all so true. It is well said and should be read by teachers and students, parents. It is very well said in the poem by Rudyard Kipling. The author of the jungle book. His poem is called “If”. It starts with If you can keep your head,when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you,Ifyou can keep your head when all men doubt you,yet make allowances for their doubt to. Or being lied about………..don’t deal in lies. Etc etc. it is a lesson we should all remember and live by it.

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