The inability to surmount learning difficulties

Bird Droppings March 22, 2023
The inability to surmount learning difficulties

It has been a few days since my last post. I have been extremely occupied with surgery Tuesday and recovering the past few days. Last week I had several doctor appointments, ultrasounds, blood work, and more doctors made it a crazy week. It seems my bladder has got the best of me. Now I am electrified and can no longer go through a metal detector. Hopefully, I will get back on track in my writing. In one of my last IEP meetings, the student reaffirmed, yes, you have a math deficit. However, choosing not to do the work or even try is a choice. As a Junior wanting to graduate next year, you have to choose whether you want to get out of school. I explained that there was nothing I could pull out of my bag of magic tricks.

Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them.” Phyllis Bottome

An exciting start to a morning thought process after a wonderful experience last night. I was trying to get some sleep my first night with no pain meds and had an epiphany sitting and thinking of columns of numbers and manipulating data. This can be whatever I want, depending on the wording and what variables I apply. I have often come to this conclusion when looking at research. Ever since I was told a reading program was data-based, I called asking for the research demographics. The sample was so small and biased that the data was not viable. But schools were buying the program in leaps and bounds; as for my thoughts and opening quotes, one from John Dewey and the other from a British novelist with over thirty-four books to her credit. Working with at-risk kids so often, I find that we avoid difficulties, walk away, steer clear, postpone, or argue.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” Isak Dinesen

Many years back, I was watching a student working on what, for some, was a quick assignment merging several different graphics and or creating graphics into a calendar during a project. Each student went in a different direction. In minutes, one had created a Mario brothers calendar based on old Mario Brothers clips, each significant to him. One was on deer hunting. There was even a Care Bears focus. However, one fellow took each frame and altered photos in a photo program eliminating backgrounds and only using specific aspects of each image. He would accomplish only a small portion of what others did daily, yet he was immersed in his task. He will have a nice artistic piece, but many hours are involved.

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” John Holt

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Winston Churchill

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.” Dan Rather

There are times when a student procrastinates, and I have had several world-class procrastinators, but watching this student work on his project meticulously detailing each image is not procrastination.

What intrigued me with this project was that this student was typically lazy, but this project became interesting to him. Each photo he took that past semester was being edited and formatted in minute detail and had become an obsession. He got in trouble in another class and asked if I would get him out of ISS so he could work on his project. As I looked at the Dan Rather quote, I wondered if when he stated that he knew he would lose two days’ work when he tried to download to a floppy more than it would hold and crash. Or that editing a photo pixel by pixel takes time.

“It is surmounting difficulties that make heroes.” Louis Kossuth

“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” Carl Gustav Jung

What amazes me is that this student has begun to grow. In many ways, he still is very lazy and often will start an assignment with great zeal only to stop before it is completed and be content with a 70%. His attitude is one of I am passing, and so what.

“You can’t fly a kite unless you go against the wind and have a weight to keep it from turning a somersault. The same with man. No man will succeed unless he is ready to face and overcome difficulties and is prepared to assume responsibilities.” William J. H. Boetcker

“For every difficulty that supposedly stops a person from succeeding, thousands have had it a lot worse and have succeeded anyway. So can you.” Brian Tracy

As I look back over the past few days of thoughts, finding that spark, that trick, that bit of inspiration that fires a student up and gives them the incentive to move forward in life always seems elusive. That particular student found a task he wanted to complete that could be a step forward for him in other areas, as we tie a tail on a kite for balance, as Boetcker states. Often it is finding that balance a person finds that provides us with the direction to go forward. I received an n email story the other day that was a tear-jerker. It probably does not pass the fact check and such, but still a good story. Let me share this story with you, whether you are a teacher, parent, student, or friend.

“There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible because there was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard in the front row slumped in his seat. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy, and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s, and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s records, and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was surprised. Teddy’s first-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.” His second-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle.” His third-grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s fourth-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

Mrs. Thompson realized the problem by now and was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some children laughed when she found a rhinestone bracelet with missing stones and a one-quarter bottle full of perfume. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom.” After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.

On that day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. And she paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the most intelligent children in the class, and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.” A year later, she found a note under her door from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Four years later, she got another letter saying that while things had been challenging, he’d stayed in school, stuck with it, and soon graduated from college with the highest honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Then four more years passed, and yet another letter came. He explained that he decided to go further after getting his bachelor’s degree. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had. But now, his name was a little longer. The letter was signed by Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the place usually reserved for the groom’s mother at the wedding. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she ensured she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.” A boy named Teddy, Author Unknown

I want to hope I can be like Mrs. Thompson, and sometimes all it takes is a teacher or a friend that cares.

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

I am sitting here finalizing my thoughts to teach an existential lesson, as I joke about so often being an existentialist. Yesterday as I walked down my hall with another teacher, we commented on how many teachers had been here for six or more years, and it was more than half. Last night I ran into a teacher from our hall who no longer teaches at our school. The teachers who are gone have learned those that remain are learners engaging as I think back and forward reading Hoffer’s thoughts. Hoffer was a self-educated man, a philosopher coming from the docks of New York City. His first book, True Believer, was written in the early 1950s in his middle age, and he never slowed down till his death in 1982.

“Do more than belong; participate. Do more than care; help. Do more than believe; practice. Do more than be fair; be kind. Do more than forgive; forget. Do more than a dream; work.” William Arthur Ward

So today, as I sit wondering about so many things, perhaps about how to be a learner and not be learned. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and hearts and always give thanks to Namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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