The higher the standard set for every single student, the more likely they are to pursue and achieve. I have personally seen teachers who genuinely believe in the potential of their students and push them to it and most of the time the students don't disappoint.
Teachers demanding excellence and setting a culture of high expectations inspires students to do the best they can do, kicking that "I don't care" attitude to the curb.
A program where I saw the effectiveness of how far this can take a group of students was in my debate team last year. The odds were clearly against us being possibly one of the newest teams in the Rhode Island Urban Debate League with fairly new coaches, but somehow we beat those odds. Mr. Swanson, our teacher coach, and my two coaches, Motaz and Emilio, never lost hope in us believing that my partner and I could do great. We won our first tournament and when our debate team got two new debaters and went to Boston, they did great. My own team had the worst tournament possible but we came back in States to win Junior Varsity 3rd place a few months later by far exceeding our coaches' expectations of how good we could do.
A lot of students find it hard to believe that they can succeed and therefore think it's not worth trying. I strongly believe this is due to a lack of motivation from those around them. If you look at those who gladly share stories of success, they will often tell you about a support system whether it's family or friends. For me it was my newspaper advisor, Ms. Sitkus. She was the first adult who pushed me and believed in me - not only in what I could do with my strengths, like writing but also working on my weaknesses. It has taken me to places where two years ago, I would have thought I would have never been capable of reaching.
As a state, we should take the same attitude towards our struggling schools that some of my teachers have taken with their students. The odds of closing the achievement gap may be stacked against us--but we can still win. We need to look at our failing schools with the same optimistic, no-excuses approach that winning teachers do. If we don't believe all of our schools can be great, how can we expect the people within their walls to believe it?
Rafael Torres is a RI-CAN School Reform Blogging Fellow.