Chase Mielke

Author. Speaker. Well-Being Expert.

An Open Letter to Myself: Don’t Give Up

Twenty-four of my students are failing. Only two are passing. They are failing in the grade book. They are failing in mastering content. They are failing in overcoming the abyss of apathy that is a characteristic of the students I teach. And, because of this, I am failing.

I have tried dozens of techniques and watched them bomb. And then tried new ones and watched them bomb again. I am frustrated and at a loss and exhausted.

For the last month I have fought hard not to admit this to myself, but it’s time I live by a credo to speak hard truths:

I want to give up on them.

I have heard it over and over again from dozens of teachers: Some kids can’t be reached. Such kids have a perfect storm of disadvantaged genetics, dismantled home-lives, and self-destructive mentalities. One teacher cannot reach them. Nor can one school, nor one community. Save your energy and dedicate it to the “good ones.”

Another truth: Lately, I have felt myself nodding in agreement when I hear teachers say these things, even uttering variations of the “Doomed Pupil Decree.”

But it’s ironic. Because my students are failing, I feel incompetent. Because I feel incompetent, I want to quit. And yet, quitting is exactly the habit I most want my students to break. It is a grey, dotted line separating irony from hypocrisy.

But I can’t shake it from my head that it’s wrong – that I’m wrong – to say “There’s no hope.” I choose to believe that there is always hope. Even if there is no hope, there is always need for hope. I can accept the reality that not every kid will be reached. But, I do not accept abandoning my effort in trying.

I can’t kick it out of my mind that every child needs a champion, every quitter needs a coach, every failure needs a fresh start. Even as my frustration hits its wall, as my energy runs on fumes, as the easy option to give up calls me to play – even then I cannot quit. Quitting is not my job. My job is to try to influence every mind that enters my room. Every day. Every student. Every second. And, when I am not trying to my fullest extent I know it – and it is only I who must answer to my own lack of integrity.

Even when Carlos walks in late for the 9th time, still no pencil, still no notebook, still with ear buds marking walls of detachment, I cannot give up.

Even when Brian is gone for the twelfth day in three weeks without the slightest rationale, I cannot give up.

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10 responses to “An Open Letter to Myself: Don’t Give Up”

  1. It is so refreshing to read a “me too” article. This is exactly where I am. I am writing “Quitting is not my job” on a post-it and sticking it on my school computer. Thank you for penning this, and thank you for not giving up!

  2. Thank you for posting this. I have had this kind of year myself. It is easy to forget why we teach and that we do make a difference. Even when we feel like failures. You have reminded me to keep trying, and that I am not a quitter.

  3. The teachers I admire the most are the ones who never gave up. There were nasty students among me in high school but the fact that they did everything they can to persevere is why I still visit them today, after years of graduating. Stay hopeful. You are doing something incredible and the students feel that, even if they don’t express it or show immediate progress, they’ll know you care. Sometimes that’s all they need, knowing someone who cares.

  4. Great post, I feel so related to the core even I’m not a teacher! What you wrote is true to every relationship. Today I was on a verge of quitting my relationship because it makes me feel like I’m not good enough, like I’m not enough, like something is terribly wrong with me. I just wanted to say “Ok, if you’re not happy with what we have, if you think I am the problem and the reason you’re not happy, then we should probably separate”. I was willing to give up, because the situation makes me feel so low. But you are right. This will mean I am betraying myself and my beliefs, that I am just a quitter. It will be the easiest thing to do – not to look where exactly is the problem, not trying to communicate it with the other side. But it will also be the biggest mistake. Who says it’s not gonna happen again tomorrow? And what will you do? Quit again?
    Sorry for the bad English. I wish you all the best luck with your students. Hope they grow up and understand your efforts.

  5. I have felt the same over my 20 yrs of teaching. I still believe that if we give a student a reason to feel successful at even one thing, that will give them the courage or incentive to reach for success again. Your efforts are commendable although they are exhausting. Just make sure you are around in the years to come as they will be many students who will need your efforts.

  6. I often feel the way. I have all those students too. It seems like just when the obstinance can’t be any greater, Miguel will finally move to the seat I want him to sit in, near me, away from the fun. Those tiny squeaks of movement remind me that somewhere, deep inside there is a spark of possibility that we can’t give up on. Good post. Keep on going! Sometimes we just can’t see the effect of our efforts. We just have to trust.

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