How much is too much?

I ask myself this question a lot.  How much is too much?  When do you know you’ve pushed your students far enough?  Too far?

Today I was coaching debate, as usual.  There are six students that I coach privately on a regular basis.  Four of them are in high school, two are in middle school.  They’re all amazing kids, but there are days I worry about the younger two.  Again, great kids, well adjusted, but they’re the youngest.  And being the youngest, they’re always compared to their siblings.  Their siblings who are on Team Canada.  Their siblings who are the best in Canada.  What makes matters worse is that they debate with the same families.  So it’s literally two teams of siblings.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “Wow, they’re as good as their siblings” or worse “They’ll never be as good as their siblings.”

There are days that I forget they’re in middle school.  They debate the same topics as their siblings.  While they’ve never beaten their siblings, they’ve come damn close.  They won the first tournament, in the senior division.  Granted, their siblings didn’t compete, but they beat the other top teams in Saskatchewan.

They stand their own ground against the top teams.  Until something happens and I remember that they’re only middle schoolers.

When they meltdown because they’ve been told “they’ll never be as good as their sister/brother” I remember they’re only 13.  When they meltdown because they were referred to “Salim/Moumin version 2.0” I remember they’re only 13.  When they cry before a tournament I remember they’re 13.

I push them.  I admit it.  They read The Economist.  They’ve done an analysis on Jared Bremmer’s The J Curve as well as an analysis on Paul Collier’s the Bottom Billion.

They’re 13.

How much is too much?

Is expecting them to be the best they can be, too much?

How do we as teachers know when is enough, or too much?

How do we know which students thrive on pressure (such as my one debater, who is attending worlds) or hate it (like her old partner, who quit because the pressure was too much.)?

How do we know when best intentions are paving the roads to Hell?

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(Layla and Ahmereen)

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With great power comes great responsibility

My student leaves in 10 days to go to the Worlds Schools Debating Championships in Turkey.  For people who aren’t in the debate community, Worlds is the highest level of debate you can reach, essentially the Olympics of the debate world.  I started the debate club four years ago because I thought that students needed an academic outlet, not for any of my students to reach Worlds.  I remember the first ever tournament I coached at.  We had 17 teams and ended up having top 3 results along with top 3 speaking results.  I figured that was that.  The students would stay in the province and might use debate in their other classes.

I never thought that I would be able to say “That is my student.  I coached her.”  But I can.  They won Jr Nationals two years ago, and were runners up at Sr Nationals last year.  Saskatchewan had never placed higher than 40th at Jr Nationals and 25th at Senior Nationals before my team.

But it’s not all about me.  It’s about them.  It’s about a 16 year old girl born in a refugee camp in Africa.  It’s about watching a community come together.  It’s about watching students who have said “I’m not smart enough to do that.” and watch them spend HOURS researching a topic they care about.  It’s about watching a student who can’t speak English spend a summer getting tutored so he can compete.  It’s about having parents coming up to me and say that they never thought their kid could compete against Canadian kids before let alone beat them.

When she finally heads to Turkey, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep for three weeks until she’s back.  She’s the youngest on the team, the only ESL student, the only ethnic minority, the only religious minority and the only student from a public school system.

I don’t really have the words to describe my feelings about these students.  There are days I’m so mad at them, I want to tie them up and leave them to their own devices but there are other days that I would love to sit there and spend weekends chaperoning them.  But in the end, it’s not about how I feel or how well I do, it’s about THEM.

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Sir Ken Robinson reply

The Sir Ken Robinson video left me with more questions than answers.  I agree with him on everything that he states but there are no answers given as to how we can change things.  There is never going to be a revolutionary change in how students are arranged when they go to school or play an athletics so that point becomes moot.

The question of the ADHD epidemic is one that has been questioned before, and can be extrapolated to different problems that have grown in the 20th and 21st centuries such as the prevalence of Austim in the last 50 years.  I agree that children live in the most stimulating era and some behaviour issues have come out because of the abundance of stimulation.  Do I agree fully that every piece of technology should be brought into the classroom? 

No.

There has to be a happy medium for both students and teachers.