[VIDEO] Is Teaching Worth It?

For all the great educators I’ve met, including those who are soon to lend their passion and talents to the field.

Please share this with an educator you know!

Huge gratitude to Kevin RomeoDaniel Juan Martinez and the whole RHINO MEDIA PRODUCTIONS team, as my student volunteers.


Why I have faith in American educators: I see America teaching

Traveling always strengthens and reaffirms my faith in teachers across America.  Read on for a reflection I wrote for WeAreTeachers during a recent stint to work with a small village in Alaska.

For years I’ve been teaching. For these same years I’ve been exposed to conversations about teachers in America. Each day I hear people talk about what teachers are and what they are not. I hear these talks from people who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in decades, who base their opinions on sensationalized news stories, who use Facebook feeds to screen their version of truth.

I wish they could see what I’ve seen. Parents, politicians, critics of education. I wish that what I saw aligned with what I heard them say. Some say we are lazy. Some say we are unwilling to change. Some say we are failures. But I see what they don’t. And, I see it everywhere.

I travel the nation – from the tundra of Alaska, to the borders of Texas, from great plains to deteriorating cities. I work with students. I collaborate with teachers. I talk with administrators and observe classrooms. And, I see educators across America in daily battles to better lives.

I see America teaching.

I see teachers immersed in remote villages, battling against decades of poverty and political mistreatment to restore, inspire, and empower forgotten communities and their cultures. I see them preparing impoverished students for a continually changing society while preserving centuries of tradition and heritage.

I See America Teaching

I see teachers in inner cities living lives of excellence as they model character to malleable young minds. I see how they still manage to motivate teens to enter their rooms instead of deal dope on streets that pay better than their broken classroom seats.

I see teachers in oil boom towns revamping entire buildings as populations double, preparing for more work, more management, more pressure without compensation to match. I see them preparing for what learning looks like when half the class doesn’t have a place to sit – and wondering how long it will last until their funding flies out with the next migration.

I see teachers working without contracts, losing hundreds of dollars each month, thousands of dollars each year to political power games – and working just as hard despite it all to fight for what’s best for their students, their children.

From I See America Teaching by blogger Chase Mielke

I see teachers having change after change thrown in their way by suits removed from the classroom. I see professional educators being chastised by policies written by politicians who itch with instant gratification – with no appreciation for the time, the energy, the investment it takes to transform one of America’s most complex systems. And still, I see these teachers show up each year with openness and ambition to try new technologies and techniques, new curricula and concepts.

I see teachers leaving their anger at the door as they try to restore dignity to the profession – a respect that gets lost every time Johnny on the news digs for juicy leads about a teacher controversy. I see thousands of models of integrity having to stand strong behind shadows of isolated scandals.

I see teachers stepping in as surrogate parents for homeless kids, whether it be lending an ear to hear their stories, a meal to hold off their hunger, or a shelter to shield them from the cold.

I see teachers rallying communities and classrooms to overcome senseless tragedies as their students and alumni get shot to death in movie theaters or silenced by suicide. I see them standing strong to hone in on what little hope their kids have left, helping them harness a purpose for persevering.

From I See America Teaching

I see America teaching.

For those who see teachers as failures, as frauds, as overpaid and underworked wastes of tax dollars, look again. Look beyond your news feeds and detached memories. Because America is teaching – America is fighting to fix issues beyond our 12 x 12 walls. America is fighting for every child, every day, in every way possible.

Look around you. And, you will see it. You will see educators defying the disrespect they get dealt each day. You will see passion and persistence, talent and tenacity. You will see America teaching.


7 Books About the Brain Every Teacher Should Read

My wife and I love to play a game called, “Y’know what blows my mind?”  It consists of one of us randomly ranting about things that blow our mind — things beyond our comprehension.  Outer space.  How tiny humans grow inside larger humans.  How our voices can be made into invisible data, thrown into the sky, and heard from thousands of miles away on cell phones.

But, the rant I make most often is about the human brain.  And, since I geek brain, I thought I’d re-post a blog I wrote for WeAreTeachers7 Books About the Brain Every Teacher Should Read.  Check it out below.

Let’s take a moment and pay silent, spirited homage to the greatest thing we own: the human brain. For a grey gelatin-like mush weighing only three pounds, our brain ensures education exists (and human life for that matter). Unfortunately, understanding this living lump of lipids isn’t easy, especially for teachers who often feel locked out of the “Ol’ Boy Scientists Club” of brain research.

Thankfully, there are writers, scientists, and educators who are bridging the gap between research and application, making neuroscience more understandable than ever. For those looking to take your brain game to the next level, here’s a short list of school year book studies (new and old) to make your synapses smile.

1. Brain Rules by John Medina

Brain Rules

As teachers, our lives are consumed by both reinforcing and teaching rules, from classroom management to critical content. So, of course, John Medina’s “12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving” is great for those of us who want to break down the brain into core concepts.

Medina introduces 12 general brain rules starting with Exercise (“Exercise boosts brain power”) and ending with Exploration (“We are powerful and natural explorers”). Along the way, he talks Wiring, Attention, Short and Long-term Memory as well as a host of other general rules for how the brain functions.

Brain Rules is an easy read: You won’t get bogged down with complex technical details. And, Medina includes practical applications of each concept. It’s a great read for any teacher who teaches students with brains (even when you think they don’t have them).  And, best of all, the concepts can even be taught to students directly.

2. The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen and Amy Nutt

Teenage Brain

If you teach or cohabitate with teenagers, read this book. Out of all the books on this list, The Teenage Brain is by far the most informative look at the many factors that make adolescent cognition different from children and adults. Frances Jensen (an Ivy League neurologist) and Amy Nutt (a Pulitzer winning science journalist) do a remarkable job showing the dense complexity of teenage brains without overwhelming a novice neuro-junkie.

Even if you don’t work with teenagers, the first few chapters of The Teenage Brain are among the best I’ve read in explaining the neurology of learning at all ages. You’ll walk away better understanding why repetition is not only good but necessary for learning (y’know, to increase long-term potentiation through myelination). The authors also complete every chapter with practical applications for parents and educators, something not all brain books do well.

The greatest takeaway of The Teenage Brain is dispelling the idea that teens are just “raging hormones.” So many factors—beyond just hormones—affect teenage minds. Covering topics such as stress, substances, and risk-taking, this book provides deeper respect, patience, and willingness to teach teenage minds.

3. The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden

Compass of pleasure

Dopamine. If you are in the learning biz, you need to know about dopamine. This complex neurochemical (which can function as both a hormone and neurotransmitter) is what drives our behavior —from our eating habits, to our learning motivations, to our addictions.

David Linden’s breakdown of good ol’ dope is great for those who like to get technical. The opening chapter provides great explanations of the neurochemical mechanisms, as well as interesting (if not twisted) experiments that shaped out understanding of dopamine.

Educators will have to make some of their own connections for relevance; The Compass Pleasure won’t give ideas for direct application for teachers. But, if human motivation and neurochemistry are on your learning queue, this read can help you advance your (healthy, productive) “dope” dealing to student learners.

4. The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge


Neuroplasticity. Another term which you can’t (nor should) avoid in education today. The fact that the human brain is in constant adjustment still blows my mind. Many of us know the “what” of neuroplasticity. But, if you want to understand the “how” as well as the “why it matters,” The Brain That Changes Itself is your go-to read.

Norman Doidge goes beyond explaining the mechanisms; each chapter covers incredible stories of neuroplasticity in action, including sexual attractions, phantom pains, and stroke recoveries. Similar to The Compass of Pleasure this book is more a look into the world of science than a “how-to” guide for teachers. If, however, the advancing world of neuroscience interests you, you’ll be engaged the whole way through The Brain That Changes Itself.

After reading this, you may look at every student differently, seeing the potential for growth inside every brain within your room. You may also find yourself getting a “Neurons the fire together, wire together” tattoo.

5. Teaching With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen

Teaching with brain in mind

Whenever I travel to work with other schools, neuroscience is on the discussion table. And, whenever neuroscience comes to the table, Eric Jensen’s name seems to be served. What many teachers love about Eric Jensen is his mission to link neuroscience with teachers directly. Jensen pools through research, critically parring down the most valid and applicable studies for teachers (his Introduction even addresses common criticisms of neuro-education studies).

Although it was updated a decade ago, I still recommend this book at any teacher looking for the “so what” of brain research. Chapters cover topics like, “Rules We Learn By,” “Movement and Learning,” “Critical Thinking Skills,” and “Managing the Social Brain.” Consider it the text book you wish you would have read in your undergrad practicum courses.

6. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer


Even though Moonwalking with Einstein is more about cognitive psychology than strict neuroscience, this read came heavily recommended to me by friends (and I now heavily recommend to you). If you love to read good stories rather than technical analyses, Moonwalking with Einstein is your jam and peanut butter. Joshua Foer describes his experience as a novice who trains for the U.S. Memory Championship.

The major takeaways for educators is a renewed love and appreciation for mnemonic strategies—something we often overlook in our world of “deeper thinking.” You’ll not only learn cool tricks to impress folks at parties, but you’ll also find yourself brainstorming ways to teach your learners how to learn more efficiently.

7. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky

Zebras Ulcers

Another slight detour from the strict neuroscience road, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is more of an exploration into the endocrine system, particularly the effect of stress hormones on human physiology and neurology. Despite it not being a pure “brain book,” I recommend this to any educator who experiences stress—a.k.a. every person in education ever.

Robert Sapolsky has a skill in making boring endocrine systems entertaining and relevant. A disclaimer: This book won’t necessarily make you feel happier about stress. It takes a hard, gritty look at just how much stress, especially chronic stress, wreaks havoc on our lives. But, since we are in the game of understanding, it is worth the read.

There are many takeaways from this for educators as well. Not only will you think about your own thinking (such as how our thought patterns can add to our stress) but you will also consider how to talk stress with your students, helping them develop better habits for controlling their cortisol.

What are you waiting for? Go pick up a good brain book and feed your hungry, hungry hippo(campus).

Oh, and if you have other good reads to share, fire below on the comments section so we can all wire the benefits


To Make Change This School Year, It’s All About the Benjamins

Some critics of education quip that teachers need to change, as if we don’t face change on a weekly, a daily, a minute-to-minute basis. Think about all the changes you were expected to make in just the last year of your teaching.

Ten. That’s the number – a conservative estimate – of changes we faced as a school just last year. And they weren’t simple, “fix-it-in-a-day” changes. I’m talking brand new PD programs, new schedule adjustments, new assessments, new curricula, new administrators.

And this is leaving out all the changes we teachers wanted to make in our classrooms daily and weekly. I could go on a soap box right now, but I’ll step down and simply say this: We aren’t struggling because of a lack of change; we are struggling because of too much change all at once.

But I’m preaching to the choir. You know that. So, given the overwhelming amount of changes we need to make, how do we avoid straining our mental (and physical) energy trying to adapt?

Ben Franklin. That’s how. Introducing the Benjamin Franklin Method of Teaching Perfection.

A little backstory first. We know about Ben Franklin. Dude may or may not have flown a kite to help understand electricity. Dude invented some sweet junk like bifocals and the glass armonica (where would we be as a nation without the glass armonica!?). Dude chummed it up overseas and wrote some stuff to help ‘merica become ‘merica.

One of my favorite things Benny-Boy did though is create a system for self-growth that has helped me calm the storm of educational change. Here’s what he did.

Early in his life, Franklin set out to become morally perfect (didn’t make it there, but that’s beside the point). His system was a thing of logical beauty.

Step 1: He figured out the virtues he wanted to master.

Step 2: He ordered them. But here’s the genius part: Rather than ranking them from “most important to least important,” he ranked them so that accomplishing one made the next one easier. For example, his first virtue was Temperance. “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation” (a.k.a. don’t gorge on food and get drunk). Guess what his next virtue was: Silence. “Speak not but what may benefit others; avoid trifling conversation” (a.k.a. Don’t hog conversation, gossip, or talk too much). Think about how much easier it is to avoid babbling when you’re sober? Mastering one makes the next easier.

Step 3: He dedicated a strict week’s attention to just one virtue until it was mastered. Every time he made a mistake he would start over. If successful, he would move on to the next. After mastering it, he would attempt to be perfect for a week with both virtues before moving onto the third.

Here’s another beautiful part: If he was working on a certain virtue, he didn’t worry about the other virtues. He let them happen in their natural course, knowing that he would get to them after mastering the other ones first.

Ben Franklin's Weekly Plan
A sample of Franklin’s accountability checklist.

That’s it. Simple. Logical. Intentional.

Here’s how it has helped me focus on lasting change despite the hail storm of district changes I face each year.

1. Figure out what changes you want to dedicate your time to this year.

2. Order them so that mastering one makes the next easier. For example, a list could look like:

– Setting a clear foundation with student agreements will help my classroom management;

– Having strong classroom management will make using iPads easier;

– Using iPads will help me collect better formative data;

– Collecting better formative data will help me create more objective rubrics.

3. Set an objective benchmark to know when you’ve improved enough to move on to the next skill.

Ex: “Once I’ve managed students to avoid texting in class for a full week, I’ll move on to using Schoology to collect student responses.”

4. Forgive and adapt.

Mistakes will happen (we’re educating dozens of diverse developing animals after all). Don’t give up your plan for growth, though. Adapt it. Tweak it. Analyze it. But start fresh the next day until you’ve got it down.

Bonus: Having a plan of growth mapped out helps your bosses understand why “District-Demanded Initiative 8” isn’t happening in your classroom . . . yet; You’re a smart cookie and you want to make that change properly.

Other applications of a Franklin focus:

Student Growth Plans

Imagine teaching students this method. Imagine if you coached students to focus on one major area of growth until it was mastered – whether it’s a behavioral need or an academic need.

Life Balance Plans

Apply this to more than just pedagogical growth. Example: Focus for a week on getting 8 hours of sleep, letting every other life challenge – like working out, avoiding the devil (donuts), calling your grandmum – happen as it happens.

So, what will your Franklin-style growth plan look like? Post your comments below and then celebrate logical change with a glass armonica jam session.

Motivation Killed

What Kills Student Motivation? We Asked Them.

“What are your thoughts on student motivation?” my principal recently asked. Knowing that I have an interest in motivation, as well as a love of working with at-risk students, he wanted to know my thoughts on why our achievement gap wasn’t narrowing.

As a teacher, I of course had many thoughts. But, the many thoughts I have on student motivation are just that: my thoughts. And, ultimately, the thoughts that matter most are the students’. So, rather than dive into a discourse of which I was not the best source, I asked my principal a simple question: Why don’t we ask the students?

So, we did.

We sat down with my group of at-risk sophomores – a large majority of whom were in our bottom 30% academically. The stage was set for these students to be completely open and honest; nothing they shared would have a negative influence on their experience in school. They were given a few days to think about factors that affect their motivation in school.

What we had intended to be a quick conversation sparked a deep discussion consuming the whole 70 minute period. Out of the whole conversation, many themes arose – themes worth sharing to a larger community because change begins with understanding.

1. Grading pitfalls

For a struggling student, falling into a pit with a low-grade – without systems to recover – is a recipe for learned helplessness. Many students remarked how frustrating it was to struggle in a class and reach a point where their effort wouldn’t matter.

The most common motivation killers were:

A) Heavily weighted assessments

We all know that not all students who show understanding of content and work hard on assignments, only to bomb tests because of cognitive challenges, stress, or any other host of “test-taking factors.” More than a few students said things like, “I hate how I can be doing well on all my assignments and projects, then fail a test, and all of a sudden I’m failing the class.”

B) No opportunities to revise or re-submit

Surprisingly, students weren’t griping for those finals week extra credit chances to inflate grades at the end. They wanted chances to revise tests, essays, and assignments throughout a class. They wanted chances to turn things in late – even with penalties.


So what?

My realization here was how much grading practices can contribute to learned helplessness. It makes sense: If I don’t feel like my effort will be enough to help me pull myself out of a failure pit, then what’s the point? As a teacher, then, I must consider what opportunities I can provide – such as revision opportunities – that shift students back into an internal locus of control.


2. Lecturing

Students talked often about how often their teachers talk. Despite an educational culture that is putting the focus on students doing the work of learning, many students discussed teachers who talk the entire class period. They stressed how hard it is to stay motivated when they just sit and listen. One of the most common suggestions students gave for helping motivation was hands-on opportunities. They even acknowledged that not every lesson can involve a lab or project. But, they said they’d at least like to be able to talk and share their ideas or practice on their own more often.

So what?

Stephen King once received great feedback from an editor who rejected one of his early writings. The editor said, “2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.” What if we approached our lectures similarly? “What I say = What I want to say – 10%” Even a 10% shift towards student response opportunities could be a great start to keeping brains active and motivated.

3. Poor explanations

We pressed students often to focus on solutions rather than gripe about specific teachers. In doing so, we realized another theme: Students lose motivation when they don’t understand.

Seems like a no-brainer. But, the learning here is that teachers aren’t intentionally trying to destroy student understanding. Just the opposite was true: Teachers were trying to help students “get-it,” but the understanding was lost in translation. Among the most common comments were:

“I hate when I ask teachers to explain something again and they say, ‘Weren’t you paying attention!?’ They assume I was being lazy but I really was trying. It just didn’t make sense.”

“I can’t stand when I say something doesn’t make sense and the teacher explains it exactly the same way they did the first time. After they keep doing that, I don’t even bother asking.”

So what?

I’m a huge fan of John Hattie’s work, in particular his urging teachers to get more feedback from students and to be conscious of knowledge gaps. My learning is to a) ask for feedback more regularly on my ability to explain concepts and b) ask students what they do understand before trying to re-teach – next time in a different way.

4. Content

Relevance, relevance, relevance. A major factor in student amotivation was feeling like the content was either not useful or too challenging. This is nothing new to teachers: We all have students who ask, “What’s the point of this.” Yet, the answer we give is important. Students commented that “You’ll need this for your next class/college” is more annoying than helpful. They want relevance now as well as in the future. They want it to be relevant to their lives not relevant to our lives.

In addition to the relevance concern is the scaffolding concern. As an ELA teacher, I asked my class what percentage of the content we read is interesting to them. The average? 10%. I then followed up asking what percentage of the content we read was too difficult to understand independently. The average here? 15% Imagine the effect on motivation when the content is both dreadfully boring and dreadfully challenging.

So what?

I need to ask some tough questions about my content. Yes, there are things beyond my control that I must teach, but I must look at what I can control and work from there. For example, it’s easy to get frustrated and angry when kids don’t come in the next day having completed their reading homework. But, do I really expect them to trudge through something that is boring and beyond their ability at home? Can I do a better job of coaching their reading in class and/or finding resources that are more relevant? Yes.

5. Lack of respect and lack of joy

This was THE most discussed topic that hurt student motivation. Over and over students described how much a respectful classroom environment affected their willingness to work hard and learn. The frustration could be summed up in one students’ statement: “They expect us to act like adults but treat us like children.”

My biggest shock came from a survey my principal gave the class. He asked two questions:

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like their job?

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like kids?

The average of both answers? 10%

So what?

To any teacher, these answers would be frustrating. We could point to any number of justifications for why students might feel this way, such as, “Kids today think they deserve respect rather than having to earn it first.” As I’ve heard before, though, blaming and justifying are like rocking chairs: They give us something to do, but don’t get us anywhere.

So what do we do? I again return to the value of surveying student perceptions often, getting consistent, honest feedback. Just as no quality teacher is intentionally trying to teach content poorly, no quality teacher is trying to disrespect students. There is simply a miscommunication.

At the end of our discussion, I had more questions than answers. There were still so many things I wanted to know about each student’s motivation. But, to get there, the process of understanding has

1. Ask for truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinem

2. Improve my teaching accordingly

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

3. Repeat

“If [a method] fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – F.D.R.

What action steps will you be taking this coming year to create more motivating contexts for your students?

This post originally appeared on WeAreTeachers.com.  If you haven’t checked out this great site for teachers, do so now!

Photo courtesy of gratisography.com -- a great site for stock images.

Survive your upcoming school year with Staff Meeting BINGO!

It’s coming. Soon. Before you know it, we’ll be back in school trying to bolster up our mental fortitude for that one reoccurring event that taxes our patience and our joy: The dreaded staff meeting. Soon we’ll be jammed into a library or cafeteria, forced to awkwardly create those collegial good vibes and hurrahs.

If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself wanting to jam a spoon in your eye to release the angst you feel at a typical staff meeting. Rather than give yourself a trip to the hospital, give yourself the gift of entertainment with Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O.

The rules are simple.

The first rule of Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O: Don’t talk about Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O.

The second rule of Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O: Don’t talk about Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O

Next, find a couple trustworthy, snarky colleagues to join you. These cats must have a sense of humor.

Prepare your B-I-N-G-O board. Fill each square with words, phrases, and observations you predict you’ll experience in the meeting. My personal favorites are:

– “Rigor”

– “Data”

– “Student-centered”

– “College/Career Readiness”

– “Research shows . . .”

– “In MY classroom.”

– A colleague asleep

– A coach planning practice

– A technology fail

At the meeting, be sure to channel your inner-Frodo and keep it secret, keep it safe.* Others will scoff at how attentive you are and wonder why you are taking such feverish notes. Keep your chart on the down-low – unless you’re sitting next to the colleague who fell asleep. In that case, you’re safe from scrutiny.

You’ll also need a secret move to indicate a BINGO. Maybe you drop your keys on the ground. Maybe you get up to use the bathroom. Maybe you ask the presenter, “Could you elaborate?” Whatever you decide, make sure your B-I-N-G-O opponents are aligned.

To ensure a fair game, no spoon feeding for responses. Sure, you could ask your administrator, “What does the data show?” and get bombarded with all the words on your board, but what’s the fun in that?

Make your life even easier by downloading a free Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O Board and list of common words, phrases, and observations.

Staff Meeting BINGO Free Download

And don’t forget, losers buy the winner a week’s worth of beverages to drown the pain of this month’s meeting.

*Note: Chase Mielke is not liable for any loss of employment, respect, decency, or integrity that results from playing Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O

A Graduation that Taught Me About Student Resilience

My favorite event of the school year is graduation. But it’s not the graduation you are picturing. I love the graduation ceremony of our local alternative high school, the kind of school at which many teachers scoff.

You know the one: filled with the “problems” and misfits that weren’t smart enough, motivated enough, good enough to cut it with the “good students.” Why do I love this alternative graduation so much? Because it holds deeper meaning for those graduates.

It is filled with students who had been discarded. The caps and gowns are worn by mothers, fathers and grandparents walking the ceremony for their children and grandchildren. They are worn by graduates who battled illnesses and balanced full-time jobs just to get their diplomas.

And the crowd. The auditorium is filled with a diverse team of supporters, from the “People of Wal-Martwhose lifestyle our society mocks online, to philanthropic business owners, to a few former “regular teachers” who still hold pride for their past students.

What the ceremony, above all else, is help me realize how often I, as a teacher, treat high school as the easiest phase of life.

As an adult who has survived the battle of adolescence, I find myself downgrading – sometimes with a touch of smugness – the tensions of struggling teenagers. I think, “You have no idea how lucky you have it in high school! Stop whining and be grateful!”

What if, in downgrading their hardships, I am undermining their resilience rather than cultivating it?

I look across the faces of the two dozen students in my 10th grade English class, and I realize they possess life stories I have never experienced – not even as an adult. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be one of them because…

I don’t know what it’s like to be a freshmen and have my mother die from alcoholism.

I don’t know what it’s like to have to give up athletic passions – a decade of love and training –because my next concussion could kill me.

I don’t know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed with anxiety that I can’t get out of bed, to feel so much internal pain that slicing my arms open brings relief.

I don’t know what it’s like to have to hide my sexual orientation from my peers for fear of

constant mockery and humiliation.

I don’t know what it’s like to be fatherless, to be poor, to resort to selling drugs to help my mom pay the electric bill.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a lifelong learning disability, to have struggled over and over and over and over as a system passes me along.

I don’t know what it’s like to bounce from house to house as parents split over drug addictions and prison sentences, to be treated like a kid but forced to parent young siblings.

These are just a handful of lives that walk through my door 2nd period each day. Yet, how

often do I think things – say things – like, “Well, if you had spent your time reading last night you wouldn’t be failing this quiz” or “You’ll keep struggling until you put school first?”

My priorities are not their priorities. The fact that some of these kids even show up to my class – even if it’s a few minutes late – could be worth my gratitude rather than my condescension.

Yet the fact that some of these kids are dealing with hardships I have never imagined is no reason to coddle them. It is no reason to pity them – no reason not to hold them to the standard I know they can attain. They are tough. They are gritty. They are resilient.

I still believe that school can awaken a future beyond their current nightmares. I still honor school as an arena to build social skills, life skills, and learning skills, and that a high school diploma need not be a final step. I still know that what we do as teachers matters – more than ever.

But, I must recognize that rigor and compassion are not dichotomies. Consequences and caring can co-exist. I need less lecturing and more listening, more empathy and less assumption.

If I – if we – respected their lives of resilience rather than criticizing their cries of discontent,

maybe, possibly, the experience of school wouldn’t be so daunting. Maybe, possibly, those caps and gowns would remind us how honorable it is make it to that graduation stage, no matter what the path.

This post originally appeared on EducationPost.org a great site dedicated to improving how people at all levels discuss and improve education.