In 1989, I learned to believe in belief. I was a young student teacher in my first at-risk classroom in upstate New York. My students dressed in leather jackets or mini-skirts and had tattoos on their fourteen year old arms and ankles. I was assigned the task of teaching them African, Asian, and Latin American studies. They were the kind of kids most teachers simply handed antiquated worksheets to hoping to keep them quiet for the fifty minute period. I didn’t want them to be quiet. I wanted them to believe in themselves, to raise their hands, and to answer my questions. I wanted them to believe in their inherent ability to learn and I guess to some extent, I needed to believe in my ability to help them learn. They were young and angry and in a way, I was young and angry too. They were angry at the obvious authority figures in their lives, their parents and their teachers. I was angry at a school system that relegated some kids to the discard bin. There was no “No Child Left Behind” legislation back then. Rather some kids walked to classes that were labeled with their supposed ability levels right on their classroom doors for everyone to see. But I was young back then and I believed in belief. And while some of them did ultimately succeed and some of them didn’t, I never forgot the first students I ever taught. Though I moved downstate after that first class and have been teaching ever since then, I always remember them. For those kids taught me that if you teach a child to believe in himself, you might just witness something amazing.
As for me, I was fortunate as a child. Every year of my education, I had, at least, one teacher who believed in me. For me, school was an oasis from the stresses of life. But I never took my ease for granted. I had plenty of friends who hated school and dreaded the thought of being asked any question from any teacher. I always vowed that if I ever taught I would do it differently and I guess I have. I make it clear to my students that if one person can do something, then certainly it must be the birthright of all humans. It’s like how every child who is taught how to ride a bike eventually rides it. Regardless of learning style, personality, or family life, after wobbling and falling, eventually that bike glides down the street. Maybe the most important thing we can teach kids is just that. Success is never without failure. The road has its detours. Sometimes it’s harder than we want it to be. But if you believe in yourself, if you believe in belief, you can find just the right balance to manage the bike. Oh, I know all about effort. And I know all about practice. And I certainly know enough about discipline. But none of those things are possible, if you don’t believe in belief. Before you complete the homework or study for the class or even show up for class, you have to believe that your efforts will ultimately lead to success. For without the possibility and promise of a final success, why would anyone bother to anything?
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