One of my teaching mantras is this: each child has unlimited potential. I am not the judge of my students’ potential, I am the enabler. I like to come back after the holiday break and tell students that no one, including themselves, knows what they are capable of doing. I usually teach a mini lesson on someone like Helen Keller or Nelson Mandela who defied the odds and accomplished seemingly super-human feats.
We form a self-image at an early age and typically by upper elementary labels either from peers or teachers – like “smart” or “shy” or “lazy” – have become a part of our identity. As a white woman from a middle class suburban upbringing, I have to actively monitor the way I perceive students of color from low income backgrounds. It is easy to let stereotypes from the media or my own experience lead me to make unconscious judgements about students’ abilities simply because of how they are dressed or how they speak. This is even more complicated when students, because of failing school systems, are years behind in basic academics. In my class I post a sign that reads “You Have More” – it is intended to be a reminder for everyone. I finished Mindset by Carol Dweck over the holiday break (review coming!) and realized the approach I teach in my classroom is what she calls a “growth” mindset and is one of the keys to success in any endeavor.
So this brings me to Isaac Vargas. I taught Isaac two years ago as a senior (and a Sophomore and Junior actually) and know him fairly well. He is a steady student, always polite and soft spoken. When I saw this news story it totally, completely blew my mind. A carjacker held Isaac up at gun point and the mild, shy, kind-of-skinny Isaac noticed the gun was unloaded and proceeded to fight off the attacker and then hold him down until the cops arrived. If you have 2 minutes, go to the website and watch the new’s report (here) because seeing Isaac tell the story is so great. We do not know what is inside of us . . .
I watched this clip thinking “Wow, I had NO idea this was in Isaac!” My husband, who was his soccer coach, called him Isaac Bourne. No kidding. Isaac’s story is a good reminder to be open to possibility and potential in our students’ academics. None of us know the limits of our own or our students’ potential.
How do you maintain belief in your students’ potential? How do you keep from judging your students? I would love to hear tips or ideas!