Tough Talk


I met Ellen on a college campus where she was majoring in Computer Science. She was eager to tell me about Mr. Morrison, the math teacher who helped her resist peer pressure and find her own path.

I had always been a good student, especially in math. In tenth grade, I had Mr. Morrison for Trigonometry in the morning, and I was his student assistant in the afternoon. I loved being in his classroom. As his assistant, I stapled study packets and graded quizzes while I listened to him teach geometry to the ninth graders. Mr. Morrison was so passionate about math that he engaged even the most reluctant learner. He took the time to get to know each of his students and seemed to genuinely care about our well-being.

When I turned sixteen, my grades started to slip. I began spending time with a new group of friends, and school was not one of their priorities. I bleached my hair, got my eyebrow pierced and started skipping classes. I began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. I felt excited to be accepted by this group, but I also felt like I was losing myself.

Mr. Morrison asked me to stay after class one day. He said that he was concerned about the changes in my grades and attendance. He asked me about my plans after graduation and my ultimate professional goals. Mostly he listened. I didn’t feel judged, but Mr. Morrison’s concern was evident. He talked about the potential he saw in me and the opportunities I might be giving up.

It took me some time to get back on track, but by the beginning of eleventh grade, my academic performance was on the rise. I will always be grateful to Mr. Morrison for caring enough to have that difficult conversation with me. His words led me back to math and back to myself.

Ellen’s story made me think about the power of a difficult conversation. Even if the words come out wrong, the conversation itself shows care. Even when students are defensive or resistant, they leave with something to think about. When did a teacher’s tough talk lead you to reflect and grow? Share in the comments below.

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