Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lex from Lakeland On Kalamazoo Katie, Diamonds, Coal, and Who Gets the Credit.

We got a lot of mail last night about Kalamazoo Katie's return to the site. Most of it went like this.

It's interesting that in celebrating your student's award, you managed to take credit for her success. Her achievement was the result of your outstanding teaching, and you even feel free to call yourself her hero. How on earth will there be room for your student on the dais, next to your enormously inflated sense of your own importance?

None of this is to minimize your student's achievement or to completely disregard your role in helping her transform herself into a star student. But unless you teach only one student a year, I'm guessing that most of your charges have not done as well. This is not to blame you but to recognize that for every one superstar student, we toil over a few dozen duds. Why is this student worth celebrating? Because hers is an unusual case. Either you spent untold hours unsuccessfully working your magic on coal that refused to transform itself into diamond, or else even you, self-kudosing Katie, gave up on most of those lumps early on, choosing only those bits of coal most likely to shine. So which is it? Do you have students who have disappointed you in spite of your best efforts, or do have students you've abandoned in your favoring of the select few? What's the real story, Kate?

You're right that we ought to celebrate successes when they occur, and to remind ourselves that all is not a lost cause. But I think we ought to do it honestly, acknowledging that the ending is not always happy, and that our Cinderella students often ignore our bippity-boppy wand-waving and choose instead to wallow in the ashes. We should also celebrate our students' successes selflessly, in full recognition that the decision to do the hard work--no less than the doing of the work itself--belongs to them. And that, I would suggest, is the cause of so much of our frustration: we encourage and mentor and direct and advise and teach our f'ing hearts out, and we know if our students would but try, would just see the potential, they too might transform themselves. That so many of them opt to remain coal is what drives many of us to articulate our frustrations here.