What Do We Do When We Want It So Badly For Them?

I think that The Science Goddess may really be a Muse. She’s inspired another couple of thoughts I want to get out here before they die of loneliness…

Late last night, Chris Lehmann posed the following idea on Twitter: Question on my mind: How can you demand that people to improve if you don’t improve the circumstances of their life / work / etc?

My response: Perhaps “demand” isn’t the right road? Perhaps we inspire or support or model?

CL: I agree completely. So why do we see so little of that in today’s educational landscape? Especially in urban settings?

SG: I think we do model another “reality,” but may be unwilling to accept that many are happy as they are.

If you’ve read her post, you may be feeling some frustration, a twinge of resentment, or even some outright hostility for the education system that seems not to be able to reach all students with the message that they can succeed in life (whatever the definition of success is) if they work hard and persist.

The fact is, most people, and that includes students, have their own agendas. Their desires and schedules for achievement of their personal goals may never be clear to us, but we can still do something important, and that is to, as The Science Goddess mentions above, inspire.

Before you comment about my apparent Pollyanna attitude, let me define “inspire.”

Science teachers know that grasshoppers have spiracles along their bodies. These openings play a big part in breathing for the grasshopper — like, that’s where the air gets into the organism.

The root of “spiracle” is the Latin spiro, a verb that means to breathe. (Can you see where I’m going with this?)

In Latin, the prefix “in” means “in” or “into.” Put the prefix “in” together with “spiro” and you get “inspiro,” to breathe into.

So if we cannot control, coerce, or command success for students, we can breathe into them our desire that they succeed by setting a truly professional example, by making available visions of possibilities, by teaching them well, assessing them accurately, and grading them fairly.

And most importantly, treating them as equals with the respect we’d give to our most revered elders. And that implies that we accept their decision about what to do with our inspiration. 😉

That’s what inspire means to me.

6 thoughts on “What Do We Do When We Want It So Badly For Them?

  1. Maybe what we’re really getting to is the modeling of “tolerance” or “acceptance” or whatever term fits the idea of celebrating people for who they are. Whatever a child’s goal is, we should be there to help them along a path to reach it…not judge it.

    Amen. –Hugh

  2. And we don’t know what will inspire different kids; we just have to try a bunch of stuff. I’ve had former students come in and tell me that I said a certain thing that inspired them totally—and I don’t even remember saying it!! It’s frightening how much power we really do have, even though we don’t realize it at that moment.

    Yes, unpredictable. But we have to be in the game all the time. Never know when the message will stick.

  3. No. Not amen at all.
    If a child’s goal is to sit on his arse and collect the dole (and I have taught those kids), we should be there to help them along a path to achieve that. We can, and should tell them that some goals are more worthy than others.

    Donalbain, You caught the tail-end of a longer inter-blog conversation. I would guess that the Science Goddess would agree with me that you are spot on. We’re not approving of lazy behaviors, but advocating tolerance for students who, having seen our smörgåsbord of life goals, prefers their own course. I hope we’re all teaching about life purpose and productivity, either overtly or by example.

    The young man rowing the drift boat in the picture above sets a good example of life goal focus. After seeing the “big picture,” he elected to stay on the course he set for himself at age 10. He now runs a thriving fly fishing guiding and outfitting business with clients from all over the world.

    BTW, have you read any of Frank Chalk’s stuff? He was a teacher once. You might get a kick out of it. –Hugh

  4. Part of the problem is that adolescents can’t always see the consequences of their behaviour, and often find it hard to look into the future. Although much less than toddlers or elementary school students, they live in the here and now and are often more interested in having fun than in building their future. This is something we have to keep in mind, too.

    Great clip! Was it actually taken while walking through the river? Amazing!

    That’s a big part of it, FT. And they all mature at different rates.

    The video clip was taken from the bow of a boat just like the one my son is rowing in the still picture above. The river at Whitehorse is too deep and too violent to walk or wade. Class IV rapids are for advanced and expert rowers/paddlers only. Here’s a description from American Whitewater:

    Class IV Rapids: Powerful, turbulent and predictable rapids; large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages. Fast, reliable eddy turns and precise boat handling needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Strong Eskimo roll [in kayaks, not drift boats] highly recommended. Scouting necessary first time. Self-rescue difficult; skilled group assistance often needed. Moderate to high risk of injury to swimmers. –Hugh

    PS: This comment refers to elements, photos, and videos that have been moved to a subsequent post named Let’s Talk About Adventure.

  5. Silly Donalbain!

    Thanks for the referal to Frank Chalk. I like him already!

    He’s a character, that’s for sure! 🙂 –Hugh

  6. I love what you say when you define ‘inspire’ at the end of your post.

    And yes, as Frumteacher wrote, our students may be focused on the here and now… for now. I truly think if we stay consistent with our goal to inspire and our expectation of success we will be inspire success. Consistency is so rare for many of our students. It is a real gift.

    A lot of this means letting go. Letting go of our preconceived notions of what our students should be doing and when, and if they are wasting their time with their chosen activities or not. You wrote it well – “And that implies that we accept their decision about what to do with our inspiration.”

    Nice post.

    Well said, Tracy. Thanks for the support.

    PS: I just got back from a short tour of your cyberworld and you’re going on my blog roll. I’m a digital immigrant who was an early adopter back in the late 70s. Your collection of communication media make me feel like a total luddite! 😀

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