Students Come Through: Why?

(Mike DePung — Post 14)

I am so humbled and thankful for the care my former students have shown to me.

They expressed that care in response to a video that I posted, actually a video that was edited and readied for posting by a former student who is now a great friend. I asked for beta readers for my first novel. Over 60 are reading for me. Now, that’s not a large number, really, but the likes, comments, and shares are way more than that.

How did this come about? I directly attribute it to my educational philosophy. I was only an English teacher who worked in seventh through twelfth grades, most of my years being at the high school level. My beliefs set the stage for the relationships that I developed with my students. Kids know if you care about them or not, and I guarantee you that if you don’t care about them as a person, they do not want to learn from you.

What do I believe? Here are the basics. I believe that the primary goal of education is to do what the Latin root of the word indicates: to draw out of students all the immense talent, intelligence, interests, etc. that abide within them and connect them to the rest of the world, to the very universe itself. Education is a drawing out — not a dumping in of knowledge into those poor, empty little brains. If you believe that they come in empty, as an educator, you need to find another job or get it straight.

Then, if I am to draw anything out of them, they must trust me, i.e., we must have a relationship if they are going to share their hearts (and heart here does not mean emotions but does include those). Another way of putting it is I need to be a friend with my students — not a hang-out-after-school-and-go-the-mall friend but a someone-who-can-be-counted-on friend — accepting of who they are, steady, reliable, fair. This leads to what my two primary goals were for each of my students every single semester, every year: I stated to them verbally and in writing that I wanted them to learn how to learn for themselves (metacognition), and I wanted them to learn to love learning, at least to some extent.

They knew that I believed they could learn and that they would want to learn, which equated to this proposition: I believed in them, and they believed in me. I really did, and now on social media I see my belief in them has been realized by so many — OMG! Lawyers, nurses, teachers, mechanics, performers, electricians, builders, carpenters, plumbers, photographers. Many of them are enjoying life in these roles, and that means they are following their hearts, knowing self and then expressing self in their daily lives. Now, this isn’t all 2,500 + students that I had, but it is true for the approximately 800 who I know through social media.

If people believe in themselves and know how to learn, they put it to practice. That is success. Many of them have more ambition, so they are not stagnating but moving onward and upward. Implied in this is my philosophy of education, and implied in that is the premise that education should not be teaching students to meet data-driven drivel, but it is leading them to know themselves, which leads to the need for knowledge so that they may express that self-identity in meaningful ways. They value education — not for tests or grades or class rank (extrinsic motivations) but for themselves (intrinsic motivation). I’ll stop here: 6,084 views of that video I posted. Search “Mr. DePung needs your help” on Facebook or YouTube. Forget the views; look at the comments — based on a relationship, based on philosophy. It works.