They are standing in a circle. It’s their choice. After I tell my story, they say, “Okay, what’s the point?”
I tell them that once their first essays hit the grade book, they are going to need to remember their answer to the question, “Why are you awesome?” That when times get tough in my class, when they don’t feel awesome, they need to keep this fact in mind, the answer to that question:
“Because I am.”
The fact that each of those faces looking at me is awesome because of their very being – THAT is what I want them to tap into in the year they spend with me.
So they’re standing there. I finish my story, and they look so awkward: standing, not quite sure where to look, what to do with their arms, just…well…just awkward. Then a girl says, “This is so dumb Robbins.”
I reply,”It actually feels good. How do you know it’s dumb until you try it? How can you say it’s dumb if you haven’t experienced it?”
And then I say to her…”Why are you awesome?”
She throws up her arms and shouts, “Because! I! AM!”and begins laughing.
I ask the next student, “Why are you awesome?” She automatically responds, “Because I am.” She puts her chin down in response to answering and not fully believing it. Then a student in class says, “C’mon, do it. Really do it.”
That’s the turning point. From that moment on, my students will now randomly ask one another, “Why are you awesome?”
I now see my students in the hallway during passing periods…they will shout across the hallway, “Robbins, why are you awesome?”
This one small thing has changed the tenor of my class. It has created a place where whether students are struggling or they are excelling, the answer is never different, so they will hopefully develop the belief that it just doesn’t matter, they are awesome no matter what.
This belief that they are awesome by their very virtue of being, of living in this world, will carry them through grades they are not proud to have, through heartbreak they think they’ll avoid, and through disappointments they don’t see coming. It is this belief that will bring them to the other side.