Posted in Education, STEM, Teaching

Persevering Through Life’s Challenges

My advice to newlyweds is as follows, “If you can make it through your first year of marriage, you can survive anything.”  While this feedback may not apply to everyone, the nucleus of my message is perseverance.  In the first two weeks of being married, my wife and I had to address and overcome the following life events: Enroute to Prince Edward Island for our honeymoon, the transmission in our car failed; the water hose connected to our washing machine slipped out in the middle of a load of laundry and shot water all over the floor of the apartment we just moved into; my wife’s grandfather suffered a heart attack; I almost died trying to install our new DVD player that I ended up breaking in the end; and, I had to aggressively look for a teaching job with no interviews on the horizon.  And that was just in the first two weeks that were supposed to be spent in Canada on our honeymoon.  However, when faced with each challenge, we persevered and found ways to overcome the lemons life tossed, I mean chucked, at us.  Sure, there were times when we wanted to give up, but we knew that in order to get through to the next day, we needed to solve the problems confronting us.  It wasn’t an easy time, but we made it through.

In the classroom, I try to instill this same kind of problem-solving mindset within my students.  I want them to understand the value of perseverance and overcoming challenges.  The best things in life can often be the most challenging to acquire.  Today in STEM class, the sixth grade hosted the very first Climate Change Summit.  The students, working in pairs, chose an aspect of Climate Change and the Paris Agreement to address, created a solution to the problem, and then constructed a digital presentation to convey their idea to a panel of faculty judges.  The boys spent the past two weeks developing their presentations in preparation for the big event today.  Two minutes prior to the start of today’s event, life threw the boys a curve ball: The projector for the whiteboard stopped working, which meant they couldn’t display the digital presentations they had worked so diligently to complete.  They needed to share their idea and information with the two faculty judges using nothing but what they had memorized or had on their iPad.  While the students could have easily given up and just not presented, they all found a way to convey their information to the judges.  They used the whiteboard, on which they drew diagrams and made notes, and their notecards to recall what they had intended to say.  There were no tears and no screams.  Yes, they were frustrated, but they didn’t show it in inappropriate ways.  While they certainly didn’t seem rehearsed because they were expecting to be able to use their digital slideshow to guide their presentation, they all conveyed their ideas to the judges in a meaningful manner.  It was quite impressive.  They encountered a roadblock and found a completely new way to arrive at their intended destination.

How?  What allowed them to overcome this challenge so easily today in class?  Was it that we have provided them several opportunities to overcome challenges this year in the sixth grade?  Did all that practice finally pay off?  Or, did they just know their presentations so well because they have been working on them for two weeks that they could have recited them while asleep?  Was that it?  Preparation can be the key to success.  Maybe that was what lead to today’s awesomeness.  Whatever the reason for the outcome in today’s STEM class, I was impressed with how the students dealt with the adversity they faced.  They overcome a great and unexpected challenge.  We debriefed the issue at the end of class and I praised the boys for how well they persevered.  It was quite the amazing spectacle.

I feel confident that these students have learned how to address and deal with problems facing them.  They find alternative solutions and get the job done.  They are able to, for the most part, appropriately contain their frustrations while working through the challenges facing them.  They are ready to take on the world and tackle any problem thrown their way.  The whole situation is actually a bit ironic because their presentations were all about finding solutions to the problem of climate change.  If they can overcome little problems, then I am sure they will be able to delve into the larger problems that they will be left to face once they transform into adults.  To solve big problems, we need more problem solvers like the boys in my sixth grade class.  I feel fortunate to have helped guide these students towards the light of perseverance and problem solving.  I’m not as worried about growing old and leaving Earth’s problems to this next generation as I once was.  I feel as though innovative solutions will be fostered and manifested as problems are faced.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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