“At this point, we (the professors in the education department) believe you may want to reconsider your decision to pursue a career in education.”
This was the final statement in a letter I received my freshman year of college, after earning a C in Education 200. I was one of many recipients who received this discouraging notice, which was given to all students who earned a C or below in this first education course. No thought was put into the people who would open this letter. No thought was given to the fact that this course was taught by a professor who spent every class session droning educational theory in monotone read directly from the text. Thought was only given to the data. If you got a C, BAM! You got a letter.
After reading the letter over and over, I considered giving up my teaching aspirations. I considered majoring in psychology or sociology. I considered pursuing news journalism. I considered transferring. Then finally, I considered the idea that they (the education professors) were just plain wrong.
The next fall, I was the only recipient of that letter who showed up in the first class session of Education 300.
Fast forward three years. Two weeks before graduation, I was in attendance at the annual celebration held by the university’s education department for all graduating newly licensed teachers. Towards the end of the evening, the director of the department announced that it was time to present the award to the “New Teacher of the Year”, who was elected annually by the professors. I was honored and humbled when my name was called as the recipient.
The next day, I knocked on the department director’s door in the Education Department. She greeted me with a smile, a hug, and a hearty congratulations. I handed her the letter I had received three years earlier. She read it, and looked at me with wide-eyed surprise. It warms my heart to say that, beginning the next semester, the education department ceased sending those letters.
As I reflect on this experience, I realize how close I was to allowing one piece of discouraging data define my future. As educators, it is our responsibility to believe in our students and show them that we know they can succeed. Have you ever heard a teacher say, “Oh he can’t read that, he’s a level ‘C’ ” or “I can’t do this project with this group because it will only frustrate them– they’re too low.” Are we limiting our students due to a couple pieces of data? If you think you’ve done a child a favor by holding them back from trying something new and challenging, think about it from their point of view. As a young adult, I almost let one letter shortchange me from my future as an educator. Are we inadvertently doing that to our students? Think hard. Yes, let’s look at the data. And then let’s agree NOT to define our students by it.