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. It’s a bad idea to say frickin’ at the end of an article it sets a bad example for a teacher, but other wise great article, now I don’t have to go to school anymore

  2. I’m a mum of a student who is giving up because he feels he is not motivated I tried to explain that he is giving up on himself and his future if he keeps blaming other people I read what you said and it’s so true so I would like to share it on my face book as I have many friends who are seeing the same problem in their children

      1. I echo Brie’s remarks.

        Don’t give up the fight. I hope my criticism has not discouraged you. I would like you to become an even better teacher. You have the right attitude, but maybe not all the right approaches. I can’t claim to have all the answers either, but it helps to branch out as much as possible and adapt to the culture that you are working with.

        I hope you believe that.

    1. Tell your student, “Thank you.” I teach elementary school, but her words touched me deeply and brought me to tears. We need to hear the encouragement just as much as the students do.

  3. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our
    community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to

  4. My godson was deeply moved by your article. His 10th grade english teacher gave it to him and he said, “I think this is the way she feels.” Then he drew an amazing illustration of the message (not required work but because they had been talking about symbolism.) My godson also has autism and deals with severe anxiety. He is fully included in a public school with an exceptional support system of many teachers who think like you. THANK YOU!

  5. Evan Thiele is my younger brother. He is starting his teaching career. My teaching career will end in 6 weeks. I will make sure my students hear this before I go.

  6. I have to admit I was a quitter. I found school boring and rarely went to class in high school. This is not to say that is ok. Just saying I was bored. When I became a single mom and returned to school I loved it. If I had to miss a class I was not happy about it. 4.0 average it was my goal to get 1900 on every assignment test exam. I CHALLENGED MYSELF and it was fun to me I seriously enjoyed exams *(i know I have been told I am crazy) oh yes and even though I did not attend many classes in high school I always handed in assignments did tests etc. And passed at 17 I was done. So some kids may be bored jyst saying

  7. I’ve read this post every day for two weeks…when a colleague sent it to me. I’m incredibly inspired by you. You write beautifully and clearly have a beautiful heart for young people. I teach in the suburbs of Kansas City. Do you have an AVID program? If so, you would be an excellent addition to the program. My best, Kelsey

  8. Omg… in all honesty this truly made me tear up. It’s simply beautiful, and thank you, you gave me the motivation I needed to get my ass up and NOT be a quitter anymore.

  9. Giving up when you are in school isn’t necessarily the end of it all. Sometimes one is just too young and immature and life provides second chances. I was a high school dropout and my future seemed quite dark. Guess what? I have a master’s degree and a pretty awesome career despite raising a child on my own. I just had to grow up and find something I was passionate about to give it a try with all my might.

    1. Good for you!!!! That being said, a lot of people not mature enough for highschool stay that way so we are just trying to avoid that.

  10. Pulling through for abstract principles at the sacrifice of your one and only life, excuse of the educated underpaid and over worked.

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