Teaching Kids to Do What It Takes

“Do what it takes,” I say. “Don’t let things happen to you… instead, make you happen to other things.”

This is all part of my push to teach high schoolers how to become professionals. One of the key rites of passage in my life was when I simply decided to stop making excuses.

It’s a small wonder that students become so keen to rationalize failure; when they’re young, they learn very quickly that they don’t have power over their own lives. The frustration that comes from not being allowed to make one’s own choices either festers into anger or stagnates into resignation. Then this lack of control becomes a convenient excuse for failure. This is not permanent, however; starting with high school, their choices suddenly matter – only someone seems to have forgotten to tell them about it.

“Do what it takes.” The premise sounds simple, but execution can seem agonizingly demanding to a student unused to accepting agency over his or her own performance. “My printer didn’t work!” a student would say to me, as if I had somehow failed to provide resources when giving an assignment.

“Oh. I guess you should just give up.” I reply. A sheepish grin is quick to break out over the student’s face then as they inevitably hear what they sound like. That’s when I hit them with all of the things they could have done. This list is very similar to below:

Did you:

  • Print it at school?
  • Text a classmate? (After all, they have to turn the assignment in too…)
  • Bike to the library?
  • Tell your parents?
  • Email ME, the one person who can grant pardons and stays of executions?
  • Take a selfie with the finished assignment in case they needed to verify that it was done on time?
  • Email it to a classmate to print?
  • Go to Kinko’s?
  • Make a handwritten version in a last-ditch effort to create a submittable hard copy?

The point is not that I expect students to spend money or anything like that – at least, not specifically. The point is to do what it takes. Nobody cares about your story unless you have results. No boss wants to hear excuses. They do want to hear crazy success stories. The crazier the story, the prouder you can be! Don’t try to impress me with how bad your luck is. Impress me with how far you went to make sure you got done what needed to be done. Try an idea instead of waiting for me to feed it to you when you tell me your life is impossible.

As more technology makes things more convenient, it’s amazing how life seems to be so much more difficult. “I couldn’t do it.” has a subtext of “it wasn’t convenient enough.” Really? Do you own a phone? Then you have access to pretty much the entirety of humankind’s collective knowledge. There was a time when writing a paper meant you had to visit the library and pore over volumes of text while being shushed by a lady who looked like a human raisin. Now you can do it in some cases without even looking at your phone.

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More than a mantra to repeat through the year, this simple concept of doing what it takes has been the theme bolstering my new curriculum and my attitude about putting in work hours. It wasn’t long before this concept led to regular attendance of Saturday School.

I should explain. The school at which I work has a program called START Saturday School. I’m sure there’s something clever that START stands for, but I have no idea at this moment what it is. What I do know is that it’s basically 4 hours out of the day on Saturday when students can receive help, feedback, and attention that they need. As if that’s not enough, the school gets back funds lost from the same students being absent during the week. Teachers are also able to work general tutoring or, with groups of 15 or more, be in their rooms and give additional lessons and/or customized support to suit the needs of their students. Teachers are paid for their time, and I’ve had the pleasure of telling students to come in on Saturday for more support and them of watching the relief appear on their faces.

I couldn’t tell students to do what it takes, and then also tell them that coming in on Saturday was not worth it to me.  So I started attending regularly.

This time has proven repeatedly to be worth it, and I find myself regularly inspired by the opportunity to show students that extra effort is met with a similar effort on my part.  I also find that without the pressure to lesson plan, the four hours become some of the most productive ever (for the students), because they feel like I am there specifically to answer their questions, rather than to screen their inquiries while I push my lesson out.

Teachers, if your school has a Saturday School program like this, I implore you to go, and to push it on your students like it’s a new iPhone.  Saturday School has proven not to be the chore it sounded like in my staff email inbox; instead, it has proven to be a regular reminder of why I became a teacher: to help students and lead by example.

More importantly, the generation needs to learn how to do what it takes.  We live in a society that thinks “bring me solutions, not problems” means to not talk about problems we can’t solve.  No.  It means that we don’t accept no for an answer.  Even a “sort of yes” beats a no any day.  If you aim for the A, you might get a B, which is better than an F.

The point is nobody can begin to meet you halfway if you decide the path is too hard.  We’re pack animals – gregarious beings that compensate for the failures of the individual through numbers and diverse offerings – but in order for that to happen, everyone needs to offer what they have instead of not coming out at all.  Sometimes your part is to just put what you have on the table until someone comes along that needs what you have.

This starts with you doing YOU first so you can get to that point.  For some individuals on this Earth, that starts in MY classroom, doing what it takes.  I’ve made it my mission to ensure that if it starts there, it won’t end there.

Let’s make it happen.

Let’s do what it takes.

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