by Joe A. Martin, Jr., Ed.D.
A great teacher once told me, “It doesn’t matter where you start in life…what counts is where you decide to finish.” I can’t begin to tell you the impact those words have had on my life.
I grew up (started) in one of the toughest inner city ghettos in Miami, son of a teenage mother, in a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighbourhood; and I had friends who were known felons. To make matters worse, no one in my family had ever graduated from high school, let alone attended college, and my average grades and low standardized test scores insured that I probably wouldn’t be the first. Trust me, nothing sabotages future success like memories of past failures.
After graduating from college (with honours), and being voted “Student of the Year” at my university, I was constantly asked, what caused my dramatic turnaround in college? My reply has always been, “My academic career changed when I started to believe in myself.”
As simple as the concept of self confidence is, I credit my teachers for helping me to find it as a student. All of my life I had been reminded as a student about what I couldn’t do and what I couldn’t or wouldn’t accomplish. However, I was fortunate enough to meet two teachers who were able to look beyond my problems and see my potential. It wasn’t until I started to see what they saw that I begin to “live up” to my potential as a student. To this day, I believe the best gift you can give a student is belief in their future.
I soon discovered that I wasn’t as gifted as most of my peers, but I did indeed have a gift. I discovered that the issue wasn’t “how smart I was,” but rather “how was I smart” ( i.e., how did I learn best). Once I discovered to focus on my strengths and not my weaknesses, I begin to tap into resources I never knew I had. You must help your students focus on their strengths until they believe in those strengths for themselves.
As educators, our job is to get students to see the end from the beginning…not where they are, but rather where they would like to go and the person they’d like to become. My mother said it best, “Until you can see yourself as you could be, then you’ll never be what you should be.” Help your students focus on the possibilities, not the potholes along the path. Show them that academics without self awareness is worthless; knowledge of self is truly the highest form of education one can ever hope to achieve.
As you prepare your students for the future, constantly ask them, “How would the person you like to become, do the thing you’re about to do?” Then get them to apply this question to all areas of their life, including study habits, work ethic, mental attitude, etc. Who knows, maybe, they too will decide to finish as a winner, in spite of their starting point.