I was talking to one of my daughters today and remembered two experiences from my life as a young student:
1) In sixth grade the math teacher asked the class for a show of hands indicating who was interested in math field day. I raised my hand. He looked square at me and said something like “You’ll never make it very far in the competition. Don’t try.” I didn’t, until much later. During my junior or senior year in high school I finally participated and advanced to the regional competition. I bombed there in spectacular fashion, but I went on to earn two math degrees and work for 17 years as a college math instructor.
2) In high school I wanted to skip a particular introductory class. I had owned a computer for few years and could already do everything we were doing in the introductory class. The teacher would not allow it so I decided not to take her classes. She commented in a not-so-nice tone that unless I had her classes, I would never pass college. I did pass college (3 times) and earned a minor in Computer Science with one degree. Now I am an Associate Professor.
I do not recall either incident inspiring some deep rooted resolve to prove these teachers wrong, but I am glad I did in the end. I am sure they have no idea and probably don’t even remember these incidents, but I get some self-satisfaction out of the path I have taken. Something curious to me is that not only did I go on to have life experiences that proved these two instances wrong, my main line of research has focused on learner motivation issues and some on feedback to students. Is that a total coincidence, or was something planted in me as early as the 6th grade?
What about other students? I was lucky to take a path that lead me past these comments. I’ll bet many other students didn’t have my luck. Teachers, choose your words carefully.
I told my daughter that in life you need to do this sometimes, and that as a girl/woman, she’ll need to do it even more often — prove “them”, whoever “them” might be, wrong.