For the last 10 years or so, I have presented at every ASCD Annual Conference and this year was no different. What was different was that my schedule was unusually packed. I went non-stop all day every day starting Thursday (Except for Saturday which I never work) and as a result, I didn’t get a chance to go to many other sessions while I was there.
I was worried that I might not have any gems for you this year but boy was I wrong. Something really surprising happened to me at this year’s conference that taught me a HUGE lesson -- one that I will not soon forget.
On the last day of the conference in my last session, a young woman came up to me afterwards and introduced herself.
“You probably don’t remember me but I was in your English class many years ago,” she began.
I looked at her and she seemed vaguely familiar. “What’s your name?” I asked.
She told me her name and immediately I remembered her. I let out a little yelp of delight and threw my arms around her. “I can’t believe this!” I exclaimed. “I talk about you all the time.”
She looked surprised. “Really? What do you say?”
I motioned for her to sit down. “I tell people that you were the only student who ever failed my AP class and that’s because you tried to fail on purpose.”
She grinned and nodded. It was true. She did. And for the next hour, we sat and talked about what happened all those years ago, and what her life has become since then.
It was a fantastic conversation and I am so proud of the young woman she’s become.
On the flight home, I thought a lot about her and what happened when she was in my class.
Have you ever wondered if the decisions you are making in the classroom are the right choices?
You see, I took a risk on her many years ago and chose to do something unorthodox. When she failed my class, she went to summer school and easily earned the missing credit. When she returned to school the following fall, I insisted that she retake the class with me anyway.
I took a hard stance, one that couldn’t be supported by our school policy. Initially, she fought me, her mother fought me, and my principal at the time advised me to let it go. But, I argued passionately for why she should retake the class even though she had already earned the credit. Although I hadn’t and perhaps wouldn’t for any other student, I dug in my heals. I knew I had no ground to stand on and I risked getting struck down by the district. I really don’t understand why I made such a fuss, other than I just believed it was the right thing to do. And, after weeks of going round and round, her mother finally agreed.
I poured into her over that semester she spent with me and she thrived. Then she graduated and moved on with her life and although I was still pretty convinced that I had done the right thing, part of me always wondered if I had gone too far.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever made a decision that you thought was the right thing to do but secretly wondered if indeed it was? Have you ever gone out on a limb for a student and then worried whether it made any difference?
I did almost 20 years ago, and for the intervening years, I always wondered if I had done the right thing. Then, my student walks into my session and she’s this amazing young woman and an incredible teacher and she tells me how much that time I chose to take a chance on her, made a critical difference in her life, and suddenly, it all makes sense.
So, if you’re wondering right now whether taking a chance on a kid will pay off, I want you to know that it will.
If you want to try something unorthodox, but you’re worried that you won’t get supported even though you know in your bones that it’s the right thing to do for your student, I want to encourage you to insist anyway.
In the face of increasing regulation and policies that govern every aspect of our practice, it’s easy to to ignore what your gut is telling you for fear that you won’t get supported or you’ll be told to stay in your lane.
But please hear me when I say this. Trust. Your. Gut.
Do the right thing for a kid, even though it’s hard.
Because here’s what I know to be true: As educators, we have a sacred trust. It is our job -- no it is our duty --to act in our students’ best interests always, even if it means taking a risk or putting ourselves on the line.
So take a risk on a student.
I can tell you from experience now that doing so is totally worth it.
If you were at the ASCD Annual Conference this year, I’d love to hear what some of your big takeaways are as well. Let me know below.