Don’t Call Me A Genius, Call Me A Scholar

20 Nov Don’t Call Me A Genius, Call Me A Scholar

One morning after grades were submitted, my guidance counselor published the report cards of our scholars and left them in my desk to be reviewed.  Anticipating high marks, I read each one carefully, and began to tense. Nearly three-fourth of the two hundred and ten scholars enrolled, had earned less than an eighty average. Some had barely passed with a sixty-five, in classes like physical education and art, which don’t require an exam or the completion of homework. What was I missing? How could this be possible? Especially when I conducted classroom observations nearly every single day and asked my scholars what they learned. I called an emergency assembly meeting for the last period of the day.

As we gathered in the large assembly hall, one scholar called out, “Ms. Lopez, are we in trouble?”

“Why would you ask me that question?”

“Because we only meet on the first Monday, unless something happened that you have need to tell us.”

I paused, then raised my hand, giving the universal signal that it was time for the scholars to give their attention. “Scholars, the reason I called this meeting is because I am very concerned with the results of the report cards. I can’t understand how it’s possible for you to come to school every single day, but your grades don’t show any effort. By show of hands, how many you give 100% to to your learning?”

I quickly counted the nineteen hands that went up, in a room with over two hundred children.  It was evident that these scholars knew they didn’t work nearly as hard as they should and were making the conscious decision not to. I decided to share how my mother, who is from Guatemala, only had a sixth grade education and my father, barely completed ninth grade in Honduras. They both grew up poor, but understood that education needed to be a priority. Despite the language barriers, my parents put me in the best schools, including one with a gifted program. I worked hard even in classes I didn’t like, particularly math and took great pride in my work because it always made a lasting impression with my teachers. I shared that no matter how smart people thought I was, I knew I needed to work hard in school because there was no one at home who could assist me with studying or completing assignments.

I proceeded to go through the high school book, selecting some of the top rated schools in New York City the scholars may want to consider attending. Then I reviewed the selection criteria: attendance, grades, and test scores. Many of their eyes lit up when hearing the minimum average had to be an eighty-five. Then I asked the question, “Why are you afraid of being smart?”

Malik answered, “Because no one wants to be teased.”

Just like that, there was the answer. Being smart was not considered cool, especially in a community where only thirty-two percent of the residents have a high school diploma. Education intimidates those who lack knowledge and exposure, as a result limiting their own personal endeavors. They are less likely to take on academic risks, because they lack confidence and fear being judged if they struggle through the learning process. After sharing my story, many of our scholars could relate to my experience of having parents who lacked education and came from a poor background. They realized the reason I still work hard to this day is because I believe we are all on a journey as life long learners. It’s the very I call our children scholars and not students. I am still in a position of learning so that I can become wiser and more prepared to lead. It was through my storytelling that my scholars became motivated and understood that I was no different from them. Reflecting now, it wasn’t just my conversation that was needed to change their mindset.

Here are four key things that revolutionized how our scholars approached learning.

  1. Teachers created learning spaces where risks were applauded, embracing the perspective that failure is a set up for success.
  2. Learning environments were sculpted for cooperative learning to encourage collaboration.
  3. Facilitating a scholar-centered approach allowed each individual to contribute to the classroom dialogue and work towards the goal of completing a task collectively.
  4. Monthly celebrations became part of the school’s culture. Rewarding scholar efforts played a critical role in maintain enthusiasm for continued learning.

By calling them scholars we challenge them to see learning as a life long process and embrace their potential. Marrying the scholar based model and the unique perspective that every child should be considered a genius, we encourage our children to be diligent in their pursuit of education.



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