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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 your 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: Step 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

1,315 comments

  1. Kevin Elzinga……Why do you have to post so much? Okay we get it…you are teacher of the last 10 years !! Can you not regulate yourself enough to see how arrogant you are coming across ?? You go on about “troubled teens” and they may feel “lectured to”, but geesh the more I read these comments, and see ALL of yours……….no wonder “YOU” have so many problems with students.

    1. There are several reasons why I post as much as I do.

      First, If someone challenges a post of mine, I feel the need to CLARIFY my position to that specific person so that I am not misquoted.

      Second, some of what I have posted is repetitive BECAUSE people don’t read anything prior to the last couple posts on this site. So they get a VERY skewed view of a person’s opinions on certain aspects of teaching if all they read is the last two posts.

      Third, I am testing Google. Google has had a tendency in the past to represent the worst side of a person’s posts. For example, if I posted a remark that seemed arrogant or rude, until recently, Google made sure that only THAT post appeared in a Google search of my name.

      If I posted something that complimented Chase, Google made sure to bury that remark.

      Not many people have been aware of this obnoxious side of Google, but, if you happen to be curious, look up the case of Beverly Stayart vs Google.

      A Google search of Ms. Stayart’s name was linked to Viagra WITHOUT her permission.

      Also Google search the names Lindsey Stone, Evan Emory, Fred Glespie, Teresa Badger and Justine Sacco.

      ALL of these people (as well as their namesakes) have to endure the eternal embarrassment of ONE screw up that they made in their lives.

      Google now has the ability to decide whether your resume gets a second look or not.

      Which affects your ability to get a job.

      Also, people posting in YOUR name can ruin your reputation if they happen to have a higher page rank than you.

      Think about it.

      Or don’t and wait until it affects you or someone you care about directly.

      1. I was one of the kids you are talking about. No, I wasnt disrespectful to teachers and I never had the mind set of “I don’t need this.” But I basically dropped out of school in grade 10 because I felt to scared to go into class or worried about my weight.
        So now that all my friends are at college and I have to go back into class with kids up to 3 years my junior, I know what kind of mind set I should have had when I was 15. Everything you said is true. If students just stopped worrying about everything else and allowed school to be somehwere that the could really achieve something, and feel better about themselves, so many minds would be healthier.
        But the most comforting thing about this post is that some teachers really do care. That is so comforting and encouraging.
        Well I have to go now, or I will miss my bus! But thank you so much for the time you have taken to write this, and thank you for caring.

    2. The more you post on a certain site the more likely Google will pick up the website linked to your name.

      When I noticed that Google had picked up THIS website in a search of my own name, Google had made it appear that I had made a VERY unprofessional remark to Chase. Which I had not.

      There is a difference between being critical and downright rude and unprofessional.

      Google was making it look as if I had called Chase “a whiner”…which is extremely rude and NOT something that I stoop to doing when offering criticism.

      In fact, the whiner comment was made by someone else who was attacking a person who had called Chase a name.

      But Google, in their prankish ways, made it appear that I had called Chase a whiner.

      That irritated the hell out of me.

      I acknowledge that I have come across as a bit condescending with SOME of my posts, but not all of them.

      Chase writes just as much as I do on his blog.

      He has very strong opinions as well.

      And yet, you don’t attack him as being arrogant.

      I find that interesting.

      Any teacher who has experience knows that there is only so much you can do for ONE student out of thirty.

      Troubled students CAN and often DO take advantage of teachers who say that they care…when they sense that the teacher is not being firm enough, they can wind up controlling the environment more than they should be controlling it.

      They create a playful environment, and soon more students follow.

      Which gets the teacher in even deeper over his or her head.

      I am not sure Chase has recognized this yet.

      He says that he is having trouble with some of his students. They refuse to cooperate with him.

      WHY?

      How much time is he spending on them at the expense of his other students?

      I am afraid that Chase is not branching out enough. He is taking on too much of the burden himself. His video version of “What Students Need to Hear” will confirm this.

      He is the ONLY person who appears in the video. Not a single one of his colleagues appears, nor do any of his brighter students…who would be more than willing to help Chase do his job if he asked them to.

      He comes across as self-promoting in his video.

      Or there is a risk that he is going to be perceived that way.

      Especially by the students that he is struggling to help the most.

      1. NOW…to be FAIR to Chase…

        There are days that I would send over a student to Chase if I felt that MY approach was not working.

        Chase appears to be very patient…

        In spite of my criticisms, I can tell that he DOES care about his students.

        And for the record, so do I, but we both have different ways of manifesting that concern for our students. Some days his methods work, other days MY methods work.

        After watching his video, I give Chase the benefit of the doubt and CHOOSE to see his video as “emulating someone that he admires” rather than “engaging in self-promotion”.

        The same fairness must be applied to one’s students.

        Is this child acting up because he feels intimidated by the work or is he just trying to waste as much time as possible?

        I think a good rule of thumb when measuring whether a student cares about school or not ( in general) is finding out what he thinks about SAFETY.

        I honestly think that if a kid ROUTINELY mocks the most basic of safety rules, we shouldn’t have as much sympathy for that child as we, currently, seem to have.

        Why we tolerate kids who routinely mock safety is a mystery to me.

        But back to the matter at hand…

        I think Chase is a necessary “cool-down” teacher for kids to go to when things get tough.

        But on some days, Chase might choose to send a student or two to me, if he senses that his students are starting to play rather than doing the necessary tasks.

        If *I* can’t handle these students, we try a different teacher…perhaps a teacher who has a similar background to the student.

        If THAT teacher can’t handle the student…well…that is not an encouraging sign.

        Public Education has become very static and that is unfortunate.

        Forcing ONE student and a teacher together into a YEAR-LONG dysfunctional struggle serves neither the student NOR the class that the teacher is serving.

        A teacher might be spectacular with 24 of her kids and yet struggle with only 2 of them.

        Why NOT see if another teacher can handle those two?

        Mixing up classrooms from time to time may be the best approach to achieving what is best for both the students AND the schools in general.

      2. This is really great stuff. I am also a teacher. It’s obvious those who are bashing are not teachers and haven’t seen the step by step process kids take in quitting and how it impacts their lives. Keep it up.

  2. I can’t believe people find this inspiring. Have any of you bothered to consider what the underlying things he is saying is?

    1. The easy way out should be frowned upon (yeah, only by ignorant people)
    “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.” Dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. (Okay THE dumbest is a slight exaggeration, but really, this notion is just ridiculous!) I take the easy way out every time I use a rice cooker instead of wasting time cooking on the stove. I have to be honest, it doesn’t take any happiness away from me, it actually gives me happiness because I have time to do other things. Taking the easy way out, when it’s not hurting anyone, is just another way of saying you value efficiency. If some kid would rather listen to TED talks than some self-righteous jerk, who claims to care but makes the kid do all the work, I don’t think that child should be called lazy or a quitter.

    2. He’s claiming to have problems with his students, and therefore they and we should take his advice (why are you listening to him?!…because he sounds inspiring?! That should not be how we evaluate those we listen to.)
    The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. As someone who has worked with only one child, but a child who could count and spell in multiple languages by age 2, I can tell you what works. What works is not telling a child they are lazy and should “man up” and need to work harder. What works is letting the child figure out their own route and encouraging them in that, doing all you can to make life EASIER for them so they can focus on learning and being passionate about what they can be passionate about instead of focusing on working them to the bone and getting so-called results. Maybe if he stopped being a drill sergeant and started being a loving, decent human being (or maybe if he simply went to some seminars with people who taught and actually got results, and then used that) then he’d get some freaking sleep.

    3. Our society kicks people when they’re down (what a slap in the face to people who donate their time and money to people in need)
    My biggest problem with this:
    “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.”
    Really? We as a society think this is okay to say people “die alone, depressed, and poor if you can’t man or woman up enough to deal with hardship”. I prefer to say we have this handy little thing called ethics, where we help people to through hardships. If someone (specifically a child, which is who the author is apparently working with) is drowning in a pond I wouldn’t say, well sink or swim buddy. I would get my butt over there and pull them out, I believe any decent person would. This is not simply theoretical, we can see our society doing this when we send relief aid to tsunami victims overseas, or send volunteers to orphanages. TO THE AUTHOR: Say what you want about your own practices and beliefs, but please don’t talk about my society as though it is a heartless machine that kicks people when they’re down. It’s not true and that’s not a fair or right message to send to others.

    1. While I see your point of view, I think Mr. Mielke is addressing the students who are MOST at risk of falling through the cracks. The ones who very well could be on their way to prison unless they make a significant turn around in how they approach life.

      One of the districts I worked in had to close one of their middle schools because computers and other equipment was routinely being stolen from the classrooms. By middle school, some students are already very accomplished criminals and a large percentage of these kids are actually quite proud of it.

      I think most people would give a similar lecture to such kids. Kids who, in their overconfidence, believe that they will be able to live a life of crime and foolishly think that they will never have to pay for it.

      I believe THAT is the audience that Mr. Mielke is addressing.

      But, you are right that this lecture is probably not going to be PERCEIVED in the right way.

      Mr. Mielke means this as a warning and I believe that he really IS stressed knowing that some of these kids are on the path to hardship, if not prison.

      However, be sure to look at the rest of his thoughts on Affective Living before you pass final judgment.

      He means well, but he does need to refine his approach.

      He needs to create a context for them that they can relate to. He needs to challenge them with questions that they haven’t even pondered before…like:

      “What would you do if your little sister was in a car crash and was badly injured?”

      Most students would say,

      “DUH! Call the ambulance.”

      That is when you can force them into seeing the relevance of school.

      “So these paramedics that you call…I assume that they are 1000 years old and will always be there if you need them?”

      “What?!”

      “Well, paramedics….they are immortal people right? No one has to replace them? You appear to think that these paramedics will never die.”

      “WHAT?! YOU CRAZY!”

      “So they DO die?”

      “Umm….yeAH!”

      “So who is going to replace them? Based on how all of you are acting, I can assume that no one here in this classroom will step up to become a paramedic.”

      “Ummmm…..”

      “What about in other classrooms around the country? I assume all those kids are all going be singers, dancers and sports stars too. Life is about doing what you WANT…right?”

      “NOW HOLD ON THERE!”

      “Why are you mad? You told me that school isn’t important or relevant to you…so please…tell me…who is going to replace the paramedics when they die?”

      “Ummmm…..”

      (Awkward silence)

      Praise and patience work only so much with difficult students. If you were teaching regularly, you would understand that. A significant percentage of these students even view school as a complete joke and they are more than happy to tell you this straight to your face.

      I honestly think that until these kids understand just how fragile and delicate life really is and that Mother Nature can be ruthless to mankind, (Hurrican Sandy, Perfect Storm of 1991) they will always think that school is a joke and not relevant to them.

      About 20 years ago, I read an article about a school district in Maine who made sure that any kid who refused to cooperate in school was sent to work in the potato fields for a week or two before being allowed to return to school.

      Perhaps that should be something we do here in Michigan as well.

  3. In any future posts, I will try to refer to the author as Mr. Mielke. Blogs have a tendency to be a little less formal, but I think it would be respectful to do so.

    But let me pose this question to ALL new teachers who visit this site.

    “How comfortable are you… REALLY… with being called Mr. or Ms.”

    It is a question I had to ask myself when I was young.

    I found that when I finally became comfortable with being called Mr. E. I was REALLY ready to teach.

    Prior to that, I think I was spending too much time trying to be a big brother rather than an actual teacher.

    Does that mean I have all the answers? HECK NO!

    But it is a sign that I HAVE…REALLY…begun to embrace the awesome responsibility that comes with the job.

    To NOT share some of my experiences and cautions with Mr. Mielke would be a disservice not only to him, but to any new teacher seeking guidance.

    If I were to say, “BAHH! Mr. Mielke will learn the hard way! What do I owe him?”….

    ….THAT …would be rude.

    Does that mean that I expect Mr. Mielke to operate EXACTLY as I do?

    No.

    But I am encouraging him to reflect inward, because self reflection and humility are crucial to the success of ANYONE in a leadership position.

    ESPECIALLY in teaching.

  4. Hi C. Mielke, really have a good point on your topic .I agree with you because you can’t give up on your self if teachers can’t give up on you because the real main event is about you not giving up. A teacher once told me that it is you can never give up on your school.What made you think about writing this blog ?

    1. Hey Elliot. How’s life at San Andreas High? I appreciate your commenting on my post. To answer your question, this post really was inspired by a sense of worry I was having at 4 a.m. one morning. Beyond my family, my teaching and my students are the most important things to me. I believe in the value of the content I teach, but I believe in the value of the character and the skills students can learn from the process of school even more. I felt the need to express my belief that school is about much more than just essays and grammar — that with the right perspective, a person can find value in every experience, every day as a chance to become stronger, more resilient, and more intelligent. Even the little things like pushing yourself to try even if you “don’t know the perfect answer,” is a small step in building more resilience. I had hoped that if my students could reframe their view towards the small moments of school, it could shift their motivation, their optimism, and their belief in themselves.

  5. I love how you show the other side of the story the real teachers point of view. I agree with everything you said and also that students NEED to hear this to be motivated to work harder. In my own experience I have days I want to give up and I feel like no one cares and if a teacher tells me that I would change my mind and go back to working. Do you make sure your students know that you care? and how?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Noe. I appreciate your thoughts :) Like many teachers, I work hard to let me students know I care about them as people. Just telling them, though, does not do enough. The most important way I’ve learned to let students know I care is to be there for them no matter what they need — whether it be sacrificing my planning to help them through a personal crisis, or staying after school, or coming in early. I also work hard to listen to my students without judgment or having to throw in my advice every time they just need to vent. Most teenagers feel like the are “talked at” rather than “listened to,” and they deserve to be heard the same way I listen to any adult. Lastly, the most important conversations I can ever have with a student to let them know I care is to learn about them as people — their interests, hobbies, goals, motivations. Even if it has nothing to do with my class, education is about more than the required academics.

  6. Hey Mr Mielke,

    My name is David Gutierrez. I agree on what your saying about “The main event is learning how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult” .We all need to learn how to deal with harshness of life when thing’s get out of hand because in the end its going to better us. I also like the fact that you care about your students more then they probably care about there self. That’s how students should be so the kids could know the teacher wants them to pass rather then them not caring because when students know teachers don’t care they wont even try. My question for you Mr Mielke, Is what were the mistakes your students were making? And did they improve them?

    1. Hey David!

      I appreciate your comment — and I agree: Most students won’t try their hardest if their teacher is not trying his/her hardest to help students learning.

      As for your question, it wasn’t necessarily that my students were making mistakes; all students (and people) make mistakes. What was worrying me was the fact that students were giving up, oftentimes before trying. Some would refuse to even write about how their day was going or wouldn’t work to turn in assignments, no matter how many chances and opportunities for support they were given.

      As much as I’d love to say those students all had a major turnaround, my words didn’t resonate with all of them. Most, however, are on a great track this year, passing their classes and seeking support. I’m not a believer that one speech or set of words can change a life entirely. Words are just seeds to plant. Depending on whether students (people) take the time to let the seeds grow, then change may happen.

  7. Hello Mr Mielke, great blog. I really liked how you said “What you need to see is that every time you take the easy way out, you are building a habit of quitting” in the eleventh paragraph. I personally agree with this theory. A question that came to my mind while reading your blog was how long have you been teaching?

    1. Hi Aureliano,

      Thanks for the comment and the support! This is my 8th year teaching. It has, and continues to be, the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life. No matter how hard it is, it gives me a sense of purpose and never ceases to entertain and challenge me every day :)

  8. By now, I think the vast majority of educators have seen the video “F-Bombs for Feminism”. This video demonstrates one of the many outside forces working on the attitudes of our students in the classroom…even students as young as 7 and 8.

    It is distinctly possible that kids like this have also seen movies such as Police Academy…with the express approval of their parents I might add.

    Just recently, some teenagers from Denver were on their way to Syria to join ISIS when they were stopped in Germany.

    The result of all these forces are kids who have have very strong opinions about how adults should act…in ANY situation…including in school.

    BEGIN FAULTY CHILD PERCEPTION

    “Geez this teacher isn’t screaming at us. What’s up with THAT? Hey teacher! Did Laverne Hooks teach you how to teach?

    (Child mimicking Laverne Hooks’s squeaky voice)

    ‘Excuse me…you all need to settle down…excuse me…it would really help if you all just quieted down and sat down.’

    Come ONNN teacher…where’s your inner drill sergeant? I’m gonna keep putting my fingers in Suzie’s hair UNTIL you act like a ‘real’ teacher and scream at me like a rabid dog.”

    END FAULTY CHILD PERCEPTION

    Kids today often come to school with perceptions that stun new teachers. The average new teacher comes from a studious background with parents that encourage good study habits.

    The students, on the other hand, all come from different backgrounds and each child has his or her own perception on what constitutes a ‘good’ teacher.

    And often those perceptions are very limited.

    How a school handles the toughest kids will determine its success or failure as a school.

    When a child faces a lot of negative outside forces going into school, no ONE adult is going to save them from going down a destructive path. It will require a team effort and a consistent, POSITIVE message to change the behavior of the child.

  9. What fortunate students you have to have a teacher like you. Cheers to you…may you continue with your passion and light up the hearts and minds of our future.

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