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. This all so true. It is well said and should be read by teachers and students, parents. It is very well said in the poem by Rudyard Kipling. The author of the jungle book. His poem is called “If”. It starts with If you can keep your head,when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you,Ifyou can keep your head when all men doubt you,yet make allowances for their doubt to. Or being lied about………..don’t deal in lies. Etc etc. it is a lesson we should all remember and live by it.

  1. As a student I never realize that. Thank you, As a business owner too and my roughly earned 22 of age, it’s a great message that need my reflexion.

    Thank you again

  2. Pingback: Learning |
    1. And this is why my wonderful sister is mature way beyond her years and may she continue to be. I am proud of the person she has grown up to be and proud to call her my sister

  3. Reading this made me emotional… As a college student, I didn’t realize how much I personally needed to hear this. Wow. THANK YOU.

  4. Such a great read, I as a ex teacher, sub teacher, tutor realize that you my dear author are faced with so many diversity of disadvantage students, no I don’t mean handicapped but, emotional, dyslexic,homeless and starving hungry students that feel what’s the use, Gona die anyway. Or think I will never succeed in this life. Yes, you dear author are determine to but your self out there for the students you teach. And so proud of you, you are a great. A teacher others futures teachers need to hear your commetment and students also. God bless you may God grant you safety, and continued determination of letting students know you will not give up on them. Greatest message ever. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I understand your frustration with students, but your argument is wrong and your tone is insulting. You write that “the main event of school is not academic learning. It never has been. It never will be.” That is objectively and historically incorrect. Then your write: “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.” I’m passionate about academics, and so are my colleagues. You don’t say what grade you teach, but I’m guessing it’s high school. If this is the message you’re sending your students, then you’re setting them up to fail in college.

    1. Did you not read the rest of the blog? He explains exactly why he says that. “Objectively and historically incorrect”? What does that even mean? You’re gonna need some factual evidence to back that claim up, you should know that being a teacher. Empty claims hold no value. The blog above defends very eloquently the statement that you’ve tried to refute, very vaguely and with no real convincing argument. No one said you can’t be passionate about academics, either. And the tone definitely isn’t insulting, so I hope you’re not an english teacher.

    2. Dear RM – I am passionate about Economics, which was my focus in grad school and what I teach to the entire senior class at my high school (take 480+ students and divide by 12 – that’s my course load for each year). Yes, learning the principles and theories of Economics is important. But more important than that is learning how to show up. How to listen, and how to contribute to the discussion. How to think critically. How to meet deadlines, or deal with the discussion of whether an exception should be granted. How to become an adult while still enjoying being a kid. How to handle the divorce of parents, or homelessness, or being the victim of bullying, or the death of a beloved grandparent. And I teach all these things. And they ARE all more important than the academics. Because without the ability to learn these and other things, students will not have the ability to focus on the academics. The author’s tone is not insulting, but passionate. Please re-read, with an open mind and compassionate heart. The author has a very mature understanding that, as important as academics is, these other things are more important, and open the door to academic learning. As a master teacher with almost 30 years and over 14,000 students in my career, I know that teaching all these other things is what allows me to also teach Economics.

    3. I disagree RM Gosselin: I teach high school seniors, who will not survive in college if they are overwhelmed by the details. Many students with high GPAs and test scores do not do well in college because they do not have the motivation they need to get through daily life. They are used to being catered to in high school and think that is going to continue in college and life, so they give up because they are not used to failing at anything. They expect to have an army of friends, clean laundry when they return from class and their life handed to them in a neat little package. Time takes time and they do not have the capacity to dig deep and move forward and so they quit.

      Reposted on:

  6. Educators know our kids probably better than anyone in their lives. It takes courage to address the issues facing our youth. School is about learning and it is the prep ground for what comes next…independence. Quitting in the prep time has painful, disappointing results…difficult times, tougher choices, struggling to make it..all things you could overcome if you had the skills…but you don’t, you QUIT before the game even started. Every student, parent and teacher should read this essay, post it, learn it and from it. Pain subsides, quitting lasts forever!

  7. I loved this so much that I read it today with seniors that I have taught for the last 4 years. We have been having issues with work ethic and I thought it was perfect to stop and evaluate using this article. After reading, we talked about it and while I was telling them how much I truly care for them as people, I started to cry. They could tell I was embarrassed, but I think they were touched. Later that day I got this message: “Don’t be embarrassed Ms Smith. Ever since eighth grade I thought my teachers were out to get me and not genuinely help me. Your class today proved that wrong. I know I’ve been all over the place myself these past couple of months, but I did take what you had to say to heart, and I suspect most others did too!”
    The feels!

  8. Pingback: Brace Yourself
    1. No. It’s about daycare because parents work. If it were about academics, it wouldn’t be so bloody inefficient. I promise it doesn’t take 7-8 hours per day for entire school years to learn what the students leave with… and then promptly forget.

  9. I think that its best that all students , parents and teachers should read this because it cab help focus on what is important and what’s not important.

  10. Thank you. I work in an alternative program and this is what I try to explain to my students often. I felt that I couldn’t successfully put it into words but you have done so. Maybe this will be the time that I get through. I can’t say enough how much I needed to read this.

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