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 our 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: Man up. Woman 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


  1. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this site.
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  2. Reblogged this on Cẩm Vân Phan and commented:
    “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.”

  3. I wish there were more teachers like you. :) And you should really let your students know jow much you care.. I think it makes a lot of difference.

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  5. jeez, fuck this guy…

    what the hell will he say when we have a RBE instead of a capitalism and employees…


    Read a fucking book.

    …like: Zero Marginal Cost Society, Abundance, Transcend, Physics of the Future, etc etc

    fuck you, trying to force me to do shit. I’ll fight you! Bring it skinny bitch. I’ll fight to the death for my freedom.

    -Annonymous college drop out

    1. I’m neither the muscle nor the dirt,

      I’m the fucking heart.

      Living for love, not for stupid ass work that ppl tell me to do.

      Living for music, for adventure, for freedom.

      Not for your sad ass reality.

      Had to add that. To fuckin shit on your bitch ass metaphor, before anyone falls for it.

      Either muscle or dirt? Shitty fucking choice. Lots of more amazing possibilities for humans. We’re so much deeper beings than that.

      Again, fuck this guy.

      -Same Annonymous college dropout

      1. I get your point about the the system and why should a kid have to learn about a microscope when they could not care less about the inner workings of a microscope but….

        you say read a book. My students can’t read because when met with frustration they have developed coping strategies which involve tuning out or acting out.

        You may respond with…of course they tune out and act out because they are forced to learn about and work on things that are completely irrelevant and have no value or meaning to them.

        That definately has something to do with it. However, some of the students talked about in this post are ones who quit in all areas of life. They do nothing because thay are afraid to fail. This fear can hold them back from learning to play an instrument, take up a new sport, travel, apply for a job, etc.

        Society is messed up and the education system is messed up but for those of us who choose to work within these systems, I agree that the focus should be to learn lessons about perseverance, taking pride in what you do, not quitting when faced with adversity, focussing on the process, taking failure for what it is, learning to work together, communicating your needs, etc.

        But I hope realists and idealists like you keep chirping and hopefully working to change our society for the better by making us all think about what we say and do.

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  8. I came across your page, and this is the first post that I read, and it certainly brought tears in my eyes. Things that are not told to us, or probably we fail to acknowledge.
    Indeed a magnificent piece.

  9. Reblogged this on Insolent Fool and commented:
    “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.”

  10. We are talking about motivation in school enough; however, as a teacher you can make it count if you still have students come in to your class. I have been working from regular school, private school, after school, international school, night school, summer school and now I am in alternative school. I have questions to you as Mr.Think@it posted his statements above, he is really do not want to be in school, how can you bring education back to him or some people like him?

  11. I have a friend who is energetic, bright, and motivated. He has never thought much of education, or of following rules, doing what other people expected of him. Earlier in his life when he went through a divorce he quit his high paying job in order to avoid paying child support. Later he created a company from which he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. His unwitting partner went to prison, but my friend was never held accountable. Well, his company did go under. But he now owns a house worth more than a million dollars, which he landed through years of real-estate dealing: Some would call his business approach ruthless, others would call it brilliant. But the Feds cracked down, so he needed to find an alternative source of income. Some of his financial needs he covered by embezzling more money, this time from his deceased mother’s estate (the disbursement of which he had been set over as trustee). The rest he got by driving a school bus. Now he has been arrested for 23 counts of molestation of a mentally impaired little girl who rode the bus.

    There are reasons for the rules and expectations of society. There are deep flaws with these rules and expectations, but anarchy is not the answer (by the way, if you abandon the system without implementing an alternative system, that is anarchy). If your free spirit is offended by the system, don’t opt out, help fix it.

  12. I appreciate this piece so much – I read when I’m struggling with my students. I teach a summer school session and would very much like to use this piece as a shared read, both as a piece that connects to their experiences and as an example of authentic writing outside the published/book format most of the students see daily. Would you give your permission for me to do so? Thank you again for writing this heartfelt and honest piece.

  13. Wow, this is powerful. You should write more at 4am. It’s so honest.

    Your writing puts a new image in my mind that defines education. A main event. Our student’s need to hear our honesty. Our students need to hear how much we care, some – or most, won’t believe it. Maybe when they are older they might remember it. I teach primary school, and I feel like even as young as Primary 3 (Grade 2) students are giving up. Somewhere, they’ve heard a message that it’s the academics that matter, and they are not good enough. In their ignorance, they believe it.

    What I want my students to know is that one of the most important favors you can do for yourself, is love yourself. Not in a vain way, not in a way that makes your brain believe you are better than anyone else. Nope, not like that, I mean in a way that makes it okay to fail, its ok to get an answer wrong, it’s okay to be embarrassed – it’s not easy mind you. However, all our emotions are okay. It’s how we cope with them that we have to be careful of.

    I want to teach my students coping skills. I want to teach them that when there is an emotion, deal with it. That when there is a mistake, fix it. If you have hurt someone (on purpose or accidentally), apologize and try your best, not to hurt that person or someone else the same way. I want to teach my students that they cannot live this life alone, we are all in this together. Support others and accept support when you need it. Never become someones eternal crutch and never rely on a crutch forever either. I want my students to know that they have the right to be who they are, and that they will be much more successful that way. In these times, people do not want a clone as a the leader of a country, or even as a cashier, be who you are, accept your quirks. Be kind to others and do the next right thing. Be grateful for what you have, so many others have less than you. Be grateful for everything, and if you can’t think of anything – at least you are alive, what about your senses, what about your abilities, the fact that you are able to think of items to be grateful for should be on your gratitude list.

    There is much more that I want to teach my students than what is on my curriculum. However, I know that I can work these ideas in. I know that my students can learn from what I know. They can learn from each other. I want them to know that they should never stop learning, they should never be satisfied with the knowledge they have, I want them to crave curiosity. I don’t expect my students to remember everything they learn (in our times we have access to knowledge at our fingertips). I want my students to be interested in how things work, and how they can make them better, including themselves. What good decisions can I make today? How can I do better today than I did yesterday?

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