I often lament the hardships the we face as educators, complaining to housemates or anyone who will listen, and too infrequently acknowledge the resilience of my students. One student in particular, John, a sixth-grade student at Holy Trinity, displays his perseverance despite his circumstances.
I first realized John had many hurdles to overcome in my sixth-grade math class last year. While we were working with multiplying decimals, I could see that he was not able to follow along. He had learned to survive school through pure imitation. He would copy the objective and bell work questions, but then he would write random numbers until we reviewed the problems together. He missed many days of school, and struggled to move on to the seventh grade. But like any middle schooler, he hated the idea of being held back and his family decided to move to another school community.
As we started the school year, we hoped that John’s family would return–and he returned to repeat the sixth grade. I have never seen a child work so hard. John comes to school every day and is working at his own pace with leveled math material. John is the epitome of perseverance. This child, who had Fs across all subjects last year, just earned an 85 on his science test and mastered two-digit addition. Seeing his intense concentration as he counts up to ten on his fingers, slowly but surely making progress, inspires me every day to push to be better every day.
It is especially during these long winter months of the year that I remind myself of John’s perseverance. Too often as a teacher, I get bogged down with the seemingly endless list of things to do and even more bogged down with negative comparisons between myself and my peers. One of the things that has inspired me the most is John’s ability to push aside his insecurities about where he is at compared to his classmates in order to do his best. He no longer worries about hiding his weaknesses–he works to keep getting better despite them. This young man has figured out what has taken me 23 years and counting to figure out. It’s not about comparing yourself to others, it’s about doing your best in the face of difficulty. In the words of John, “I don’t know, I guess it just doesn’t matter what other people think. I feel like I’m doing a good job learning.”
To all you teachers, students, and educators… you can do it. There’s a lot of standards to cover, a lot of tests to grade, and a lot of parents to email, but like John you can persevere.
Katie Heussman serves as an AmeriCorps member at Holy Trinity in Los Angeles, California.
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