Somebody trying to help

It is hard to know if the actions we take are having any impact on our students. The “thank you” is rarely there. Even if your efforts appear to be falling on deaf ears, you never know how a student really feels about the time and energy you put in to support them.

Short video. Big message. A River Runs Through It remains one of my favorite movies of all time. One of the major reasons being there is so much to take away from it.

In this scene, Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer) and his brother Paul (Brad Pitt) are fly fishing on the Gallatin River. Norman was supposed to take his girlfriend’s brother, Neal, with them. Unfortunately, Neal had too much to drink the previous night and passed out on the walk to the river.

Norman is frustrated and believes that his girlfriend will be upset that he did not help her brother. He states, “He doesn’t like fishing. He doesn’t like Montana. And he sure as hell doesn’t like me.” To which Paul replies, “Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.”

This is an incredible line, because we discover later that Paul is really talking about himself (no spoilers here, even though the movie came out in 1992). Secondly, it perfectly puts into words how your good deeds will not always be received in the way you want them to be.

Implication for Education

The last day of school. The student you have been pouring your energy into for the past fours years comes into your room with a letter. It is a college acceptance letter. They start crying. You start crying. You hug. Fade to black.

Okay, that never happens.

What will happen is you will be in your classroom grading papers after school. You turn around and see a former student at the door. Maybe a student who made your job a lot more challenging than it needed to be. You exchange pleasantries and ask them how high school is if you are a middle school teacher or how college is if you are a high school teacher. They tell you it is a lot tougher. You smile and tell them how proud you are of them. They reach out to shake your hand and then leave.

That’s it.

They never said thank you. They never said how grateful they are for how you prepared them. They never said how much it meant to them that you never gave up on them. They never said how you changed their trajectory simply by caring.

But, did you catch it?

They came back to see you. And what that “says” is thank you for caring, thank you for believing in me, and thank you for never giving up on me.

Of course it would be nice to hear those things. Even better it would be nice to hear those things when those students are in your class. But, it does not work that way. It is hard for adults to acknowledge an appreciation for help. It is near impossible for students to verbalize it.

All that means is that you can’t let a student’s response, or lack of one, dictate your actions. You must continue to do what is best for students even when there is no sign that they care, or even want your help.

It may seem that students are disinterested in the help that you are trying to give. But remember, it might be that what they like is “somebody trying to help” them.

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