Stuart's Spectacular Students

This is dedicated to my amazing students. The goal is for each and every one of them to feel unstoppable by the time they walk out of the classroom door for the final time in May. This chronicles their journey; their own Chronicles of Self-Actualization.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

We Can Be Heroes...Every Single One of Us



We are all born the same, more or less. We do not all stay the same. Why? Why do so few of us seem to achieve our dreams? Why do so many give up, settle for less than our greatest happiness, and/or blame anything outside of ourselves for our limitations?

I really think it's because so few of us become heroes. Hardly anybody hangs on just one minute longer, hanging on UNTIL that happiness is created in our lives.

We received our national test results on a reading test before Thanksgiving Break. Two students deserving recognition are James, who scored THE BEST in 5th grade IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY...


...and Katie who ranked in the top 5%.

They are heroes, among THE VERY BEST OF THE BEST in America.


However, not everyone did so well. Some students did not do so very well at all and scored near the bottom of the country...and it hurt.

Shaquan started crying, saying he was "tired of always failing and being a mess up." I hugged him and told him his tears showed he had great heart...and I promised him that his heart was what would carry him to success.

“Given the warm, supportive environment of the quality school where there is no failure, and where there is almost always the possibility of tutoring, it would be more need-satisfying for students to work to raise their grades than to give up and receive no credit for the course.”
(from the book, "The Quality School - Managing Students Without Coercion", by Dr. William Glasser, p.111)

This is why I feel it's absolutely important for EVERY student to come into a classroom EACH day where they know they'll be cared for, believed in, and as long as they try, leaving at the end of the day more than when they came in. (Taylor was sad because she couldn't eat Thanksgiving lunch with her little sister....

And with Florencia also wanting to eat with her younger sibling....

We went through some special ops training....

And snuck em in :-)

“What doctor would prescribe an antibiotic for a patient with an infection – and also for a patient without one? How is it that such wasteful practice is commonly accepted routine in classrooms nationwide? What should students think of teachers who waste their time and who value the appearance of learning over learning itself?

What do pointless school activities teach students about the value of schooling, the value of doing as the teacher says? What do such activities teach students about how much the school culture values them as unique human beings?” (from the book, "Finding Freedom in the Classroom - A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory", by Patricia Hinchey, p.p. 11-12)

And this is why I write individual lesson plans for each student in reading, science and math. These plans are data-driven based on their individual needs, and allows me to basically tutor each student, providing the right antibiotic or specific strength training regiment much like a doctor or strength coach would.

It is much harder writing 17 lesson plans a day than one, but it produces much more growth than when I used what I call the shotgun, one-size-fits-all approach.

When difficulties are overcome, they become blessings.
-Proverb

Later in the day I noticed Shaquan sitting doing nothing. This isn't allowed. The classroom is like a weight room for the heart and mind.

You can be laughing, moving, standing on your head if you like while learning...but by God you better be struggling to lift the weight (working on improving the skills) you haven't been strong enough to lift up until today.

He said he didn't care, the work was too hard, etc. (just like Malcolm used to do last year, who came back to visit me and tell me he's overcoming all his challenges in middle school, just as I knew he would :-)

Before I knew it I had come up behind Shaquan and pulled him out of his chair, pinning him against me with my arm. I whispered in his ear with a low growl that he was not allowed to EVER give up on himself! I released him and he dropped back down in his chair.

(I wish I had a picture of that moment. I tell the students they can use my phone to take pictures of what's going on in class, but the moment happened so fast it had come and gone in seconds. I likely would have forgotten it ever happened without a picture to remind me, had what happened next not occurred.)

He started crying again....

Malcolm and his fellow classmates, who were one of Orange County's highest growing classes, know how I feel about this. For the past two years I've used a scene from the movie Armageddon to make a point. It's where Bruce Willis and his fellow astronauts-to-be are put in the back of fighter jets to prepare them for the ride into space.

The video has it right away but is in Spanish. It's worth seeing the first few seconds to get an idea of what I'm talking about.



Adapted for my students, I tell them...

Life can sometimes be a brutal assault on your senses, and this year I'm going to give you a taste of what that's like.

I'm gonna push you so hard it's gonna suck your eyes to the back of your head.

I'm gonna twist ya.

I'm gonna flip ya.

I'm gonna wrap your body till your bones hurt.

And when you squeal,

I'm just gonna go faster and harder.

(then I add)

But most of all, I'm gonna love ya....

for all the good that's inside of you already...

and all the good that you're capable of becoming.

I have two hands. With one I'm gonna challenge ya...and with the other I'm gonna hold ya.

If given with love, a handful is sufficient.


-Telugu proverb


So as I looked at Shaquan from across the room, crying tears of self-pity and hopelessness, I told him I was sorry. I told him...

I'm sorry that you didn't do well on the test.

I'm sorry you feel so bad.

And I'm sorry that you missed learning key skills long ago that are making it almost impossible for you to succeed now.

(and by this time barking loudly)

BUT I'M NOT GOING TO FEEL SORRY FOR YOU!

I'M GOING TO FEEL STRONG FOR YOU!

I DON'T CARE THAT IT'S HARD FOR YOU!

I DON'T CARE THAT YOU HAVE REASONS TO GIVE UP!

I DON'T CARE IF YOU HATE ME!

I DON'T CARE IF I GET IN TROUBLE FOR PUSHING YOU TOO HARD!

I CARE THAT YOU OVERCOME WHAT'S STOPPING YOU!

I CARE THAT YOU START LOVING YOURSELF ENOUGH TO STOP FEELING SORRY AND START BEING STRONG!!!

..........Dead Silence...No one was talking, no one was working, no one was even moving. They were afraid. I had gone too far.

So I spoke to the entire class (now that it seemed I had their undivided attention). I said, "Look guys, from what I can tell almost every problem we face can be overcome in two simple steps. Two steps that will keep us from ever giving up. What are they?"

No one raised their hand. They all looked at me like deer frozen in headlights. I had to lighten the tension so I began telling them a story of how a friend and I were hiking up a mountain one time, long ago.

How when we were at the top, my friend Mo had an idea..."Dream Big", he said.

""Yes, yes," I replied, "and Do Big!"

"That's right", Mo said. "If people just Dream Big and Do Big, they will Be Big!"

We were so excited we wanted to write it down but didn't bring any paper with us. Mo found two stone tablets to use. Excited to turn it into a book, we carried our two "rules" back down the mountain and showed his editor.

Looking at it, the editor said, "Two rules aren't enough. Ten would be better. And instead of rules, we should call them "commandments". Yes, commandments sound much better."

My mother was calling me for dinner so I had to go home, but Moses said he was going back up the mountain to see if he could think of eight more commandments.....

I never saw him again. I wonder what ever happened to him?

Laughing now at realizing I was referring to our class motto of "Dream Big. Do Big. Be Big!" (you can see part of the poster in the background) and incorporating the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments to make a point, everyone, including Shaquan, went back to believing they could learn what they were attempting to, and working hard to learn it.

Everybody wants to be somebody: Nobody wants to grow.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And then came the next day, Friday's spelling test. For three months Shaquan has never received anything other than an "F". We tried everything, but nothing seemed to work. He has no concept of vowels...I mean this kid missed something long ago in school. But I asked him to not give up, and that knowing what you wanted was more important than knowing how you would get it. The way would show itself to us.

I gave the test, sitting a few feet away from him, knowing that after what happened the day before he needed something besides hope, hugs and hollers to help him keep going. He needed results, and I was hoping he would get at least a "D".

I gave the last word, a bonus word, and we switched papers for grading. I believe in immediate feedback. If there's improvement (Being Big), the student feels good and is willing to go tackle a weak academic area in a spirit of confidence (Believing and Doing Big)

If there's no improvement, the reasons for choosing the wrong answers are still fresh in their minds. There's much less, "I don't know" responses and much more , "Ohhhh. I see now." And the cycle of failure has a better chance of being broken.

When we were done grading, I can't remember if it was Kelly or Katie who had Shaquan's paper, said very quietly,

"Mr. Stuart.....Shaquan got an "A".

I said, "I'm sorry?"

"Shaquan got an 'A'. Actually an 'A+', a 110%!"

She handed the paper back to Shaquan, who just stared at it...as I did. Right there, in black and white, was 110%. I asked him how he did it. He told me he highlighted the vowels of each word every night at home, like we had done on the computer after his first failed spelling test at the beginning of the year.

He said, "I just tried it one more time."

I asked him what the definition of a hero is.

"Someone who hangs on one minute longer", he said.

"You, my friend, have become a hero. And what you've done is nothing short of miraculous, going from three months of "F's" to an "A+", without cheating. I was right there watching you, hoping for you, pulling for you. You have scored a valid 110%! You have created a miracle!"

I wish I had a trophy to give him. All I had was a plastic fork I was going to use to stir my coffee, so I gave it to him while Kelly drew a trophy for him on the white board. You can see in the picture I'm ready to cry.

At the end of the day before he left he said, "Mr Stuart, you know how you wanted to give me that trophy?"

I told him I did.

"I want you."

"What do you mean?", I asked.

"The trophy I want is you. I want you to keep teaching me."

Having unconditional love for the welfare of another means risking being hated in return. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it doesn't. I lost a stepdaughter over it, being told by her mother I was no longer to consider myself her father in any way. That hurt me a lot, so I don't take this risk lightly, just necessary. This time it did pay off. A child used to constant failure has now succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams....and is feeling very, very good about himself.

"Leadership is not something that is done to people, like fixing your teeth. Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better." -- Bill Bradley

How is the impossible made possible? How do you develop amazing abilities that make others stand back in awe at your miraculous results... as an athlete, astronaut, artist or anything?

You do what Shaquan did

You try just one more time

You become a hero




Be your own hero, it's cheaper than a movie ticket.
-Doug Horton

(Daiquan pumped up after getting a personal phone call from a friend of mine who is the voice of Rock Lee from the cartoon and video game Naruto. He had told me he had good news and bad news. The bad news is he wanted to hit someone on the bus. The good news is he didn't. He's one of the few who didn't get suspended. He has found his real strength, his Inner Strength!)

And this video is for you Shaquan. When you stopped seeing yourself as a failure, you stopped failing!

I am VERY, VERY, VERY proud of you young warrior!

You have become a real-life hero in this world, and for the most important person on the planet....yourself! Promise me you'll never forget this moment!

9 Comments:

  • At 11:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    hi mr.stuart this is taneicea i do not know what to do what out you. you are my hero. a picture is like a thousand words but to me it is your love. love taneicea

     
  • At 5:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr.Stuart is chad dead lol????????????????????????????????

     
  • At 11:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    hi this is daiquan thank you for finding my inner stratght. and not giving up on me. THANK YOU!!!

     
  • At 11:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hey Mr. Stuart it's Nick and there has been many different feelings and events that have happened in the time we have been a class this year. We have had hard times and fun times but this hasd probobly been the best year that I have ever had in the years I have been going to school. I thank you for being an awesome teacher. YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!

     
  • At 12:23 PM , Blogger Ray said...

    Mr.stuart with that orange in your mouth u look funny any way i tryed my best to finish my book and i did.I understand why you put us in our seats so u r great and i apoligize for makeing the class look bad from the yellow card ill learn from that ok ur busy im going printt some edhelper sheets YOU ROCk!!!!!!

     
  • At 12:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    hi mr stuart its drew i was looking at the post and looked at the comments. And is true from taneicea's the pichers worth a thousand words to nicks fun and tough times,and you saying that i can do any thing and im like a shotig star.thairs allways some one i know who believes in me thank you

     
  • At 12:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    hi mr.stuart this is taneicea.You are my hero there is never anything or any time i can do without you. Everythime i try to learn and constert i keep of thinking about you and when people keep on calling me names outside of class. I try to stop thinking about it I can't. I love you with ALL my heart.Even when I am away for one day, even when the school year is over, I will not fogert you, every in my life I will never forgert my fifth grade teacher. I love you with all my heart. LOVE TANEICEA

     
  • At 4:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. Stuart,
    That was a wow!!!!! there is no words to express how I felt about this blog, I almost cried. That is why you are the best.
    For shaquan: you did it:) and never give up if you did it once I know for sure you can do it again. keep striving for the good grades. I dont even know you and I am very proud of you. Be like nike (just do it:))believe in yourself:)
    Take care,
    RV

     
  • At 4:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. Stuart,
    That was a wow!!!!! there is no words to express how I felt about this blog, I almost cried. That is why you are the best.
    For shaquan: you did it:) and never give up if you did it once I know for sure you can do it again. keep striving for the good grades. I dont even know you and I am very proud of you. Be like nike (just do it:))believe in yourself:)
    Take care,
    RV

     

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