We Must Love One Another or Die
Here’s something teachers know:
If you want to motivate a slacker, sometimes you have to scare them. You have to tell them they’re failing. You have to show them your grade book, with all the absences and zeroes. You have to lay out the consequences in crystal clear terms they can understand.
You have to tell them, “It’s too late.”
Believe it or not, this is what gets the slackers going. Tell them there’s nothing they can do. Tell them they’ve failed. Not because you’re trying to trick them. Not because you’re angry. Not because you want to. You do it because it’s true. They have failed. They’ve used up all of their chances. That’s the moment they start doing the work.
It’s a tactic of last resort.
No, not always. It’s not a move you open with. It’s not something you use on someone who’s just struggling. It’s what we do when we run out of all other options. We do it after six, eight, or ten weeks of explaining the assignments and giving deadline extensions.
If you know anything about me, then you probably know I’m a generous teacher. But when a student has failed, I don’t lie to them. I don’t waste their time with false hope. I tell them the truth. I tell them it’s on them to either withdraw, or do something to prove they can pass.
Sometimes, there’s something in the human mind that doesn’t click on until it can truly grasp what hopelessness feels like, until it truly has to reckon with despair. Some people are already there, and they don’t need to see the grade book. Some people need hope and encouragement. Others need to hear the brutal truth. They need to hear our despair.
Ironically, my students aren’t the problem right now. A lot of them understand what’s going on. They’re deeply concerned about our corrupt politics, our incremental approach to climate change, our injustice, our inequality, and our constant wars. They’re not the ones failing right now. It’s the adults. They’re the ones who need drastic intervention.
It doesn’t mean we’re pessimists. It doesn’t mean we want the world to fail. It doesn’t mean we don’t care.