Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Power of Off-The-Cuff Words

Just recently, my memory was refreshed as to how seriously students take what we say. Things I just sort of blurt out because I think they're the right thing to say seem to make a difference.

For example, I have this incredibly smart and hard-working student in BC Calculus this year. Last year I had her for precalculus preAP. Back then she was talking about her math choices for the next year, and I mentioned that she should definitely take BC calculus as opposed to AB because she had such a great work ethic and cared about really understanding topics and such. I think I also said something to the effect that it would be a waste of her time to take AB which would not challenge her as much. I did truly believe this, but I didn't know how much weight this would carry. Well, several times this year as she's bemoaning the fact of how hard it is (in a good-natured I'll-still-muddle-through sort of way), she kept mentioning the fact that I made her take BC calculus. Hmph.

I have another student in AB Calculus. I also had him in precalculus preAP last year. He's an interesting, intense, strange, slow-working, self-stressing type of person. I really did not think he could manage the pace of calculus with how much he frets over EVERYTHING. He asked last year if he should take calculus, and I hate to discourage students/people, because, really, what do I know, maybe they will surprise themselves and me and if not, then the experience will be a learning one one way or another. So here he is in AB calculus this year. He is struggling and stressing and such all along. He came to me after school one day and said he wanted to drop out of the class. I said that well, the decision was his, but I think it would be a shame if he did because then if anything hard came up in the future then his first idea would be just to quit because it was too hard. I also said that he was smart enough to handle it, and personally I would stick it out. (inside, I think he can do it, and he just has to approach it in a different way, but I DEFINITELY know that if he dropped, he'd be WAY less stressed than he is now). Well, anyway, he decided to stay, and later wrote me a note thanking me for believing in him and in his ability.

I guess the point of all this is to err on the side of pushing the kids to do their best and to do things they don't think they could do or think possible. Maybe it will open up opportunities for them and make them think of themselves in ways they didn't in the past.


  1. Anonymous8:24 PM

    It is interesting reading your views on whether or not to push the students to work up to their full potential. I am a mother of three teenagers and I am also currently getting certified to teach middle school/high school math. I have seen the pressure that today's teens are under from the other side, as a parent. My oldest daughter was a very capable student and at times I thought that she would crumble under the pressure, as every one of her teachers would push her to do more and more. My daughter almost always met, and sometimes exceeded, these expectations, but at a very high cost. At times I worry what we are expecting from these highly competent teens - many times her schedule was much more demanding than many adults could have managed and she was constantly sleep deprived to get everything done. Just some thoughts. It is so hard to not see these kid's "potential" and then want to help them acheive all that they can be.

  2. Anonymous9:10 PM

    Thank you for writing. As a non-parent, that's something I didn't/don't think about: the kids that want to do well and want to "please" the people who think they can do great things.

    I'm wondering how to word advice to students about making sure you have a balance in your life while still giving your best effort (but not killing yourself).

    Ms. Cookie

  3. Sorry to post this as a comment, but I have no longer have you email address to send this directly. (In addition, I don't have answers, but experience the same dilemma's). Anyway, I so enjoy your blog, and use it regularly for a source for ideas. I ran across this site,, and thought the analysis was great. Check it out...I'd love to see what do you think!

  4. Anonymous2:48 PM

    Hi Shahana,

    Well that's a fun website. I'm curious what words and sentence structures they look for when making their analysis.

    Ms. Cookie