(A student named Sams and his high school principal, Joe Clark, stand on the windy Eastside High School rooftop. Sams has been expelled for his miscreant ways and begs to be let back into Eastside High School, but Mr. Clark isn’t buying it.)
Clark: Why should I believe you now?
Sams (sobbing): ‘Cause I changed my ways.
Clark: I don’t believe you, Sams. I don’t think you’ve changed a thing. Go on, jump!
[Clark shoves Sams to the edge of the rooftop.]
Sams (still sobbing uncontrollably): No, I don’t wanna jump.
Clark: Yes, you do! You smoke crack, don’t ya?! [Sams lowers his head in shame.] YOU SMOKE CRACK, DON’T YA?! [Sams looks up, mouths ‘Yes’ and lowers his head again.] LOOK AT ME, BOY! [Clark lifts the boy’s chin and makes eye contact with his teary eyes.] Don’t you smoke crack?!
Clark: You know what that does to you? [Sams has no response] Huh?!
Sams: No, sir.
Clark: It kills your brain cells, son, it kills your brain cells! [Clark taps Sams’ backwards-hat wearing head.] Now, when you’re destroying your brain cells, you’re doing the same thing as killing yourself, you’re just doing it slower. Now, I say, if you want to kill yourself, don’t fuck around with it! Go on and do it expeditiously! NOW, GO ON AND JUMP! JUMP!
Sams (sobbing again): No. I don’t wanna kill myself, sir.
Clark: You’re quite sure about this, are you?
This is a scene from Lean on Me, an inspirational film where Joe Clark, played by Morgan Freeman, saves a child’s life; Sams ends up being a model student in Mr. Clark’s school.
If only it was so easy for teachers in the real world!
Maybe it is.
“Oh my gosh! Mr. Shinn! You. Are. So. Mean.”
“That’s why I like you.”
In a world full of platitudes and false gold stars, students appreciate honest, unadulterated, uncensored feedback. Mentors, teachers, and parents too often tell young people they’re doing things correctly even when they’re not, so young people believe they’re 100% right 100% of the time.
“Juan out of Juan” as one of my students wrote on a self-corrected paper.
Too often, we—myself included, occasionally—tell students “you’re close” and “you almost have it” when in fact they are not even in the right time zone.
Afraid of being mean, we settle for good enough and call it “great.”
What we need is to do is speak earnestly and honestly into our kids’ lives, just like Joe Clark does. In the words of a girlfriend of mine, “We need to hold out for the Hell Yeahs.” We need to tell students to try again. To attempt the problem once more.
Education has become so ego-driven that we are scared of telling a kid, “No.” (Well, everyone except me… at least it feels that way. Self-righteous. Table for one?) Students consistently talk me up to other staff because “Mr. Shinn is ‘real.’”
Part of my first day speech: “You’re not going to like me everyday. Some days I’m going to make you angry. Some days I’m going to yell at you. Some days you’re going to leave this class talking about how much you hate me. But you will ALWAYS know where you stand with me. Remember that. Oh, and I love you all.”
Facebook friends are really acquaintances, reality TV is anything but real, and Honey Boo Boo tells “the truth”—as Magical Teachers, we must push our students to the edge of the rooftops and say, “What the hell are you doing watching Honey Boo Boo?! If you want to kill yourself, do it expeditiously!”
But really, calling something what it is—and holding out for the hell yeahs—is one way we show love.
Evin Shinn is a reality television connoisseur who teaches middle school Language Arts and AVID as a side job. Besides knowing who was voted off the island or received the last rose, Evin balances life by renewing his faith, developing his friendships, focusing on his fitness, and becoming a champion teacher and role model for his 7th and 8th graders. An advocate of students learning core knowledge, Evin believes the Myth of the Magical Teacher isn’t a myth at all—it happens everyday in classrooms around the world. You can find out how he wants education to change at talkingabouttyee.wordpress.com or follow his life on Instagram orTwitter.