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To me, I’m now realizing, the concept of focusing on what’s best for most people seems quite the case of quantity over quality.

It’s not really that way, I know. When we have to stop focusing on one student with a poor work ethic in order to better support the rest of the class, quality still exists. The quality of a lesson, or a teacher who focuses on the majority of students instead probably even increases.

But somehow I just can’t bring myself to overlook the one kid who doesn’t know any better than to act out. The concept of shifting attention from a student, no matter how disruptive or disrespectful they may be, is a hard pill for me to swallow.

I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way. I completely understand the benefits of a ‘for the greater good’ mentality, but that understanding is accompanied by the weight of those ignored in the process.

I suppose that, in the case of my students, this is primarily because I feel like the ones who act out and don’t understand the value of hard work and quality education are the ones that most need our support. I joined Teach For America to help communities progress by working to shape youth into intelligent and compassionate adults. When I see students who are on a path that threatens both their own futures and those of their communities, I become more personally invested.

I am determined to not let those students slip through the cracks. I am inspired to help them fight their perceptions of themselves, and to open their eyes to their true potentials. Often, these are the people who cause the most pain. I’ve had many people like this in my life – you drain your energy trying to help them, they seem understanding and willing to change, and then it’s back to square one.

There is no guarantee that by continuously pushing a student to do well, they will one day magically gain an intrinsic work ethic that will get them into an Ivy League after which they will win a Nobel Peace Prize for which they will thank the 6th grade English teacher who never gave up on them thereby landing said teacher a Best Person Ever Prize.

Still, young minds are malleable. Life after school is a far away, maybe-land to them and they find it difficult to connect their attitudes in the present with future outcomes. Isn’t it our jobs, as their elders, to push them toward a path of opportunity and safety?

It’s easy to become frustrated with students who consistently talk back, don’t do their work or expect to have their hands held every step of the way. It is, I understand, even necessary to ensure a teacher’s attention is distributed fairly among all students. I just don’t want to look back, think of a student and wonder – ‘what if?’

And despite the fact that there are days my students make me want to cry in a corner or pull my hairs out 10 at a time; despite the fact that there is no guarantee my efforts would ever truly make a difference – when it comes to my students I’d rather live with the heartbreak of wasted efforts than the haunting regret of not having done enough.