Someone asked me to describe teaching. I thought about that. I think I’ll describe my teaching or at least the spirit with which I teach. But, I’m not going to talk about my discipline, or my methods, or my philosophy of education, or my credo. I think I’ll talk about what I struggle to get students to understand about themselves and their own potential. Mike Ditke, an ex-pro football coach, said recently while analyzing a particular football game and explaining why one talented team got trounced. “It’s a game of attitude. You can have all the talent and ability, but if you don’t have the right attitude, you don’t have much and can’t do much.”
“If you don’t have the right attitude, you don’t have much and can’t do much.” In their daily journals, in everyday conversations, in bantering small talk, I see how so, so many students have shut down that part of themselves that houses their dreams; they’ve been wrapped so tightly in fear of failing that they’re not free to freely have the courage to achieve; they don’t understand how much they can make their lives better and perform better by virtue of their own attitudes; they don’t understand how much energy they expend and waste by worrying; they don’t understand how much strength and stamina is sapped by fear; they don’t realize that nothing can stop them when they choose to keep going; they don’t allow themselves to feel their longing; they hold back themselves from being their full selves; they so easily get down by being down on themselves they concentrate on a hesitant “I am” rather than on a bold “I can be;” they don’t understand that paying a large price of not risking makes them smaller; they don’t understand that they can only move around within the cramped confines of their self-imposed limits; they don’t understand that they can only change what they do if they change how they see themselves.
So, how do I describe my teaching? Wholeness! In every semester beginning “getting to know ya” exercise, in every response to a journal entry, in every project, in response to every community evaluation, in every “Words For The Day” on the board, in every conversation, in all the small talk, I work on their attitude. If they don’t have the right attitude about themselves they won’t do much with learning the subject matter. So, I urge them to break out of their own confining prison, grow beyond their confining limits, and start discovering their limitless potential It’s a kind of a hands-on, “stop-start” sort of approach on which everything I do and everything they do rests. It’s a form stretching that is far more daring and challenging than anything the students will feel in a workout at the recreation center. It’s a stretching of their faith in themselves, of their hope for themselves, of their confidence in themselves. It’s a stretching that starts within. So, I offer students a long series of demanding stretching lessons that go through spiritual stations of stretching, opening the cell door, daring to peek out, risking to step out, tapping their unused potential, and start growing. With my eyes, my voice, my lips, my hands, my inflections, my body, at every chance and in every place and in every way, this is what I tell student after student after student as each wades through the muck of confusions, questions, hesitations, anxieties, excuses, rationales, fears, blames, and lies:
Stop stopping and start starting.
Stop blaming and start accepting responsibility
Stop making excuses and start making choices
Stop every challenge from being an obstacle that stops you and start seeing those
challenges as opportunities to grow.
Stop worrying about the load you’re carrying and start thinking about how to carry
Stop with the “I’ll try” and start with the “I’ll do.”
Stop discouraging yourself and start encouraging yourself
Stop accepting negatives and start accentuating the positives.
Stop trying to control people and things around you and start controlling yourself
Stop trying to get the most by doing the least and start doing the most to get the
Stop looking for a quick and easy shortcut that’s really the way to nowhere and
start understanding why “long and hard” is important and is the path to
Stop with the “I can’t” and start with the “I can.”
Stop with the “I don’t have the time” and start making the time.
Stop putting on your brakes and start hitting your accelerator
Stop being lazy and start putting in sustained effort.
Stop getting knocked down and staying down and start getting up and getting on.
Stop being all work or all play and start being whole and balanced.
Stop being stopped at the first obstacle and start overcoming, enduring, and
Stop with the “buts,” and start getting off your butt.
Stop leaving things for the last minute and start giving things every minute you
Stop looking for guarantees and start taking risks
Stop complaining about what you don’t have and start making the most of what you
have right now.
Stop using your own words and thoughts to put yourself down and start using your
own words and thoughts to lift yourself up.
Stop thinking avoiding mistakes is the way to success and start knowing that the
secret to success is learning from your mistakes.
Stop imposing limits on yourself and start seeing that you have no limits.
Stop accepting being average and start pursuing excellence.
Stop thinking and start dreaming.
Stop wearing masks and start being authentic.
Stop roaming about and start finding a direction
Stop doing only what you have to do and start doing whatever it takes.
Stop wanting convenience and start being inconvenienced
Stop talking the words and start living them
Stop wanting comfort and start being uncomfortable
Stop wanting things your way and start going out of your way.
Stop being safe and start taking risks.
Stop acting as if small acts are “no big deal” and start realizing what you do
makes a difference.
Stop worrying about failing and start dreaming about succeeding.
.Stop living someone else’s life and start living the life you want.
Stop being distracted and start focusing
Stop getting buried and start digging in
Stop focusing on what you cannot do and start seeing what you’re fully capable of
Stop letting your life be controlled and start taking control of your life.
Stop trying to be someone else and start being the unique person you are.
Stop drifting about and start to acquire and develop a vision so positive,
meaningful and compelling that you simply cannot sit still.
Stop talking about all this and start living all this.
Stop thinking that this all there is and start knowing that there’s a hell of a
I hope to get them to see that every challenge can make them stronger, every risk can make them more daring, every disappointment can make them more determined, every frustration can make them more patient, every mistake can make them more understanding, every stumble can make them more persistence, every achievement can make them more confident, and every circumstance can work in their favor–if they so choose.
But, you know, I also tell all this every day to myself as well. When I am alone, in my quiet moments, in my quiet places, it always comes to me that I must not only say these stop/starts, write them on the board, teach them, encourage them, and advocate them, but I must consciously and conscientiously live them and model them. I have to be all about by how I live, not by what I say or write.
Make it a good day.