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Educator Articles


"I didn't get to him."

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

It was about this time last year that we talked to Brenda, a concerned teacher who was not looking forward to a happy summer. Brenda taught fifth grade in a suburban community. She was worried about one of her students who by the end of the school year hadn’t achieved academically and emotionally to the level she had expected. "I'm feeling bummed," she said, "because I didn't get to him."

Twenty-four of Brenda's students met the goals she mentally set for them at the beginning of the year. One did not. As the year came to an end Brenda focused on the one child she felt in her mind she hadn't reached. "I feel like a failure," she told us. "It's going to be a long summer thinking about him and how I wasn't able to get through to him."

Brenda is like a lot of teachers we know. She ignored her twenty-four successes and focused instead on her one perceived failure. She mentally chastised herself because of the end results experienced by one student and failed to celebrate the incredible success enjoyed by all the others.

Have there been one or two students you feel you haven't reached this year? Maybe one of your students dropped out of school this semester despite your efforts to motivate and encourage her. Perhaps the child who had trouble making friends early in the year still has no friends. It may be that the student who chooses to bully seems to have made no progress during your time with him. Did one or two students flunk your third-hour science class? Did one child fail to master long division?

Are you feeling bad because you wanted to accomplish more with that child? Does it seem that you didn't do your job to the best of your ability? If so, consider the following.

1.) Maybe it wasn't his lesson.

You might be upset leaving for the summer and saying goodbye to a student who failed to learn an essential lesson. But what if the important learning this year was not intended for him? What if it was intended for you? What if this student was in your classroom this year to help you learn something valuable?

What did you learn from this child? What did you learn that you can put to use next year with someone else? If you learned your lesson, maybe this child accomplished his most important task during his time with you. If he did what he came to do, let him go with joy in your heart.

2.) The fastest way to go north could be to temporarily go south.

So maybe you had a student go south this semester. Some students need to get what appears to be "off course" before they can get back "on course." Refuse to see "off course" as good or bad. Don't even see it as "off course." See it instead as going south. For some students, going south is their most direct route to going north. You just might have been the only teacher that could create an environment where this student felt safe enough to learn the lessons inherent in going south. Celebrate your success.

3.) You can't make anybody do anything.

You know you can't make a horse drink. Similarly, you can't make a student study. You can't move her pencil, you can't think her thoughts, and you can't take her tests. All you can do is hold the door open. She gets to decide whether or not to walk through the opening.

You didn't fail this child. You succeeded at providing her with opportunities from which to pick and choose. You succeeded at helping her experience the legitimate consequences of her actions. You cared enough about her to hold her accountable for her choices. You succeeded at helping her learn what happens when you make poor choices. Congratulate yourself.

4.) Maybe you were number 67.

How many times does it take a child to hear something, experience a consequence, or be exposed to a concept before it sinks in? Different amounts of times for different students, we suspect. But let’s say the number for this particular student is 75. Maybe she needs to experience someone reaching out to her 75 times before she realizes people want to help her. Maybe she needs to be consistently given a consequence 75 times before she realizes the cause-and-effect relationship that exists between her choices and the results that follow. Maybe she needs 75 incidents of unconditional love before she recognizes her worth. Maybe 75 is her number.

Wouldn't it be a rewarding experience to be the person who provided this child with the 75th exposure to an important concept? Wouldn't it be great to be there on the day when she experienced unconditional love for the 75th time? Wouldn't you like to see the smile on her face when the 75th occurrence of reaching out actually reached her?

But what if you weren’t number 75 for this student this year? What if you were number 67 instead? What if you were the 67th person to reach out, hold her accountable, or teach her the same lesson? If you were number 67 for her you wouldn't get to see her day of awakening, her great excitement, her light bulb going on. If you were number 67 for this student you might be going home for the summer feeling like Brenda did. You might be thinking, “I didn’t get to him.”

Keep this in mind this summer: the 67th person makes the 75th possible. You cannot get to 75 without going through 67. Is the 4th incident, the 27th, or the 67th any less valuable because they weren’t number 75? We don't think so. A student cannot experience the 75th if they never had a 4th, a 12th, or a 36th. All experiences are important. The 67th is just as important as the 75th.

Refuse to bemoan the fact that you didn't reach this child. Remember instead that you were one of many who are needed to make the 75th possible. It just may be that your efforts this year have set the stage and made it possible for the real lesson to be delivered by the next teacher, next year.

Create a relaxing and productive summer. You've earned it.