“You are not allowed to give up!”

Dont-Give-UpSo, my sophomores have started to read Dante’s Inferno.

And they want to die.

Well, not literally. Especially not after having gone on a “virtual tour of hell” themselves and seeing what crazy things are happening there.

But a lot of them are really discouraged. They fall into two groups:

Group A:
These kids have been discouraged about their reading abilities (or lack thereof) for so long that they kind of assumed their failure in advance. A few of them may have picked up the book and read the first few sentences of Canto 2 and then closed it with a frustrated sigh. Or flipped through it vaguely during commercials. Or raced through it in a panic this morning in the hallway when they heard rumors of pop quizzes occurring in Ms. Shea’s classroom. Or tried to make it look like they annotated when really they didn’t think too much about it.

Group B:
These kids made a much more deliberate and concerted effort. After having reviewed reading strategies from the beginning of the year, they chose a few to focus on and try. They annotated their text with sticky notes. They used the Endnotes at the back of the book. They read aloud to themselves. They read aloud to others. They summarized difficult places in their own words. They looked up Youtube videos in which the text is read aloud, with pictures, to help them aurally and visually.

But both groups struggled. And sometimes people in Group B did not do any better than people in Group A on the three pop quizzes I gave today.

I felt kind of sad. That’s the worst, isn’t it? When you actually really try, and nothing seems to come of it?

I thought, how many times has that happened to me as a teacher?

So many failures. So many disappointments.

But I did my best to frame everything carefully. I told them how proud I was of them for trying new things. I gave examples of students who had come to see me for extra help, even if it was just for a couple of seconds after school or during lunch. I told them how struggling with a text – especially with a work as great as Dante’s – is a wonderful thing. That it’s okay to struggle with it. That it’s okay to make mistakes.

I also told them: “You are not allowed to give up!”

Nope. Not allowed. Not an option. You have lots of choices to make, lots of new strategies we have learned about to try… but giving up is not one of them.

Again, Carol Dweck’s theory of “Fixed Mindset” keeps coming back.

It’s easier, and safer, to give up. To not try.

Because if you fail, you know that you did not really try anyway because the book is too hard for you and really it’s Dante’s fault that he lived in the 1300s and spoke differently and thought differently. His fault, not yours.


How can I teach them that the struggle is good? That that’s what learning is?


All the best things in life take time and effort. Love, marriage, friendship, family, faith.

But it’s so popular with so many of my students to be lazy: “Yeah, I didn’t read that!” “Nope, me neither!” “I’m totally going to fail, ha ha ha….”

Why is this?

Sometimes I just want to reach into their brains and take out the Fixed Mindsets.

It makes me so sad. I know it’s hard. I know they have so many things to do and worry about. Welcome to life. But don’t give up on it. Come see me for help. I am here for you. Don’t blame the book for your own lack of training or trying! Do something about it!

Widen your heart! See if maybe this “great work” of literature has something to give you besides a headache. There is a lot of love there. Don’t reject it because you are too tired to be bothered with it.

If you’re going through hell, keep on going.

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