The moment of the week was when I gave today’s (Wednesday, 3/30) Biology quiz grade to one of my students, Marilyn. She was the last one to finish, which wasn’t unusual, but what was unusual was that as she was taking the quiz she was constantly writing. Normally when she’s taking quizzes or tests she will just stare off into the distance or write some few things, before erasing them and sitting there again. She also has a harder time paying attention in class, so I have to make sure I engage her with every new topic.
However, she has recently been doing a lot better, especially with taking notes and with writing lab reports. She is now consistently one of the highest grades on the lab reports, where she started off at the bottom. On the first Bio quiz, she earned a 20%, the second lowest grade in the class. However, on today’s quiz, the second one, she earned a 62%, the highest grade in the class. I was so happy while I was correcting it, and so happy when I got to tell her the grade, because she obviously put a lot of work into it, and she showed just how much that hard work is able to pay off.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget her face when I told her that she earned the highest grade in the class. This is an extremely caring, friendly girl who very much wants to please her teachers, and one of the ones who I feel like accepted us right away, and she puts a lot of trust in us. Yet she, like many of the girls, has very deep issues with confidence and self esteem. She’s confident enough when interacting with people, but when it comes to achievement and educational growth, she had no faith at all, and was really limiting herself. But as I told her her grade, her face lit up so much that I could tell that this new feeling of pride came from deep, deep down. This is exactly what I have been waiting for with her, for her to finally do something that she feels proud of, to see the efforts she put in pay off in equal parts of results.
Now, I just hope she remembers this feeling and uses it to motivate herself in the future. I am really pushing these students, holding them to the same standards that I would hold an Honors Biology class to if I were teaching in the United States. However, not only is this the first time that they have been held to high standards like this, it is the first time they have been asked, forced, to think outside the box during and after class, it is the first time they have had any structured evaluations like these quizzes and tests, and it is the first time that they have had to hold themselves accountable.
A few weeks ago I took the whole class into the chapel in the beginning of class, and asked them to think about what their education means to them, how they can fully take advantage of their opportunities and gifts as they walk along the path that God has set in front of them. Then, I told them that I wanted them to write down one way their education can improve their lives, one way it can improve the lives of other people in their communities, and three things they can do each day to achieve these goals. As they reflected and wrote, I could tell they really started to think about these questions, if not for the first time, then at least in a way much more deep and intense than ever before. For example, when they finished, I expected them to all sit together and talk quietly until they were all done, but instead they sat apart in silence, looking down at their papers and inwards at their hearts. When they all finished, I let them sit for one more song on the stereo and then brought them all together in a circle. I told them to keep their answers in a safe place so that they can go back and read it in a few weeks or months, and then we closed with an Our Father. Walking back into the classroom and in the start of the class material, they were quiet, but soon livened up and were more participatory than they ever were before in class.
So, despite me pushing them hard and all of the new classroom settings, little by little they are rising to my expectations, as Marilyn showed today. My philosophy is to treat them all the same and to constantly challenge them, to never water anything down for them. The first day that I feel sorry for them and make accommodations for them because they are economically underprivileged or not from a strong educational background, is the last day I will stop helping them. They are just as capable as any other High School Biology or Chemistry student, and therefore I will treat them the same way. Even if the exams are very difficult for them, they at least learn how to think critically, apply information, and generally just how to succeed. Set the bar high, provide support on the way there, and they will reach that bar.
Thank you, Marilyn, for taking a responsibility in your education, thank you for listening, and for believing. Thank you for giving me the strength and faith to continue.