Do or Do Not. There is no Try.


This 2’x4′ painting hangs in my classroom.  A student who I only taught in her freshman year painted it for me the month before she graduated.

Last year on “Star Wars Day” I asked my then seven-year-old what he thought Yoda meant when he said to Luke, ” Do or Do Not. There is no Try.”  He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Yoda means, ‘Believe you can do it.'”

Believe you can do it.  Isn’t that the most important thing of all?  As a teacher, I believe my students can do it.  But getting each of them to believe in themselves is a different story.  A small percentage of students arrive on the first day of school already believing in themselves.  For the rest of them it can be a year-long process to build their confidence and get them doing math on their own.

Now that we are at the end of the academic year, I can think back to where my students were mathematically in August.  They have grown so much.  My algebra one students know A LOT of algebra.  They know how to factor, solve systems, distinguish between linear, quadratic, and exponential models, and much, much more.  They know how to use technology to arrive at their answers, but they can do plenty without being dependent on said technology.  They know how to ask questions to push their understanding further.  But most importantly, most of them believe they can succeed in math.

In many ways, my calculus students have come even further — they now know about the differential and integral calculus.  They know the procedures for differentiating and anti-differentiating.  They know the applications of said procedures.  They are ready for their AP Calculus exam tomorrow.  They won’t all get fives (the highest score), but the experience of learning hard material, preparing for a comprehensive exam, and enduring that exam will hold them in good stead as they pursue other academic challenges in the coming years.

Here are two quotes from current students:

You differ extremely from other teachers, because when you teach anyone would be able to see that you care about the success of all your students.  I will always remember how much you love teaching math, and how good that love made you in doing so.  One day I will look back and know I will remember that if you truly love what you do, it will make you exponentially greater at it.  — Algebra I student in a “thank you letter” for teacher appreciation day (an English teacher must have assigned this).

I did that one all by myself.  I was so proud.  – AP Calculus student yesterday as we are in the final throes of practice before the exam tomorrow.

Believe you can do it.  Believe you can teach those kids.  Believe they will all learn.  Believe they will all pass.  It is important for teachers to believe too.

Happy Star Wars Day.  May the Force be with you.  I am lucky enough to wear Yoda ears all day (a gift from a student) and go to a Rebel baseball game tonight.  And in the most timely fashion of all… a former student just texted me this:

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Star Wars Day 2015:  I am a Rebel

Star Wars Day 2014:  May the Fourth be with You