Why I Will Never Tell my Students it is Easy





When I started teaching math, I encountered a problem that I didn't realize I would encounter.  I had many students who just didn't want to try.  They would just sit there and do NOTHING.  I thought that they maybe felt defeated, or that they thought it was too hard for them.  So I did what I've heard many teachers do. I said, "It's EASY, you can do it."  I thought I was giving them encouragement to try, motivating them, inspiring them to pick up their pencil and at least try.  It wasn't until about three years later, that I realized I perhaps was doing the very opposite that I was hoping to do. You see, the problem is that it's NOT EASY for them, and by me telling them that it is easy, they feel so much more defeated.  Now they feel like that can't do something that is labeled EASY.  Now they definitely weren't going to try, because it's one thing to not be able to do something that is hard, but to not be able to do something that is easy, is completely different. 

I teach students who are 12-14 years old.  Looking stupid, is the absolute last impression they want to give to their peers.  They will choose lazy over looking stupid.  So, after this realization, I started changing my words.  When they aren't working, I let them know that it IS hard.  That I am asking them to do something very difficult, but I believe in them.  I believe that they can try, I believe that they can fail, and I believe that they can learn from their mistakes.  I believe that they can do hard things and it may not be today, or tomorrow, or this week or month, but I believe that they will eventually get it.  And it's OK if it takes them longer than their friend.  It's OK if they are faster than their friend. 

It's wonderful, because if they try and fail, they don't feel stupid, because they failed doing something difficult.  Also, they don't just try and fail, they try and fail and try and fail and eventually try and succeed.  And when they succeed they feel so proud, because they succeeded at doing something difficult. This motivates them to keep trying other hard things. It is a cycle that keeps on giving...to them.  

Also, this is something that you need to teach your students.  Teach them that even if they feel that something is easy, it is not easy for everyone.  So they better not be saying in class that it is easy.  I do not allow the word EASY in my class, and my students know that. 

I challenge you , that if are using words like I was using, to change your mindset.  Tell your students that it is hard, but you believe in them.  Tell them that you expect them to fail, but you also expect them to learn from their mistakes.  You will be surprised how they change their work ethic.  
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