A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved. – adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley
I remember my first interaction with Tom*. Our shadowing period had ended, and I was assigned to his class. He sat, not disrupting anyone, but not doing his work. I pulled my chair beside him and coerced him into completing his warm-up. As Tom wrote on the prompt for the day, he began to open up to me about his academic situation. “Miss,” he began, “I’ve already did this before. This is my second time in the 7th Grade, but they said if I pass all my classes, they will skip me up to the 8th.”
I listened intently. This was not an uncommon story. A lot of my students are overage, and profess the desire to buckle down, turn over a new leaf, and undo the stigma of them being unsuccessful. I went through my usual questions. Tom’s reasons for his lack of committal to his studies ranged from the work being hard and unrelated to life to the work being boring and undesirable to finish.
My mind fashioned an idea. I gave him a sheet of paper and told him to list everything that was holding him back. “Man that will take too much time and paper,” he exclaimed. “So be it,” I answered. “ Just try.” He wrote until he exhausted the topic. At this point, I took the paper, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash. With a stern look, I gazed into his eyes and stated, “Now that all your excuses are gone, you can move forward.”