No Excuses

Article excerpt

I truly believe the primary obstacle to student academic achievement is the low expectations of their teachers. I have one rule for my seventh-grade students: "No Excuses." It is the motto I have adopted in my classroom. When students enter my class for the first time, they see this printed in bold letters across the board. They recite this every day, until they know it well. They say it until they believe that they can do anything, because anything else is just an excuse.

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I start the year by telling students the story of Kyle Maynard. Kyle is a courageous young man, born with a rare disorder called congenital amputation. Kyle has no forearms and shortened legs, and he stands only four feet tall, yet he has never allowed his disabilities to get in the way of achieving his dreams. One such dream was to become an accomplished athlete. Through his determination and the support of his family and coach, he was able to achieve what many might have felt was impossible and became one of the top high school wrestlers in the state of Georgia. Kyle's book, No Excuses (Maynard 2005), is truly an inspirational story that shows how a positive attitude can lead to great achievements, even when against the odds. Each day for the first week of school I read excerpts of Kyle's book to my students in hopes that they will adopt the same life philosophy Kyle has. Teachers can purchase No Excuses from a bookstore, or order it online from any of the numerous bookstore websites. When I first read Kyle's story, I knew it was one I wanted to share with my students. His words inspired me to develop the "No Excuses" rule in my own life and classroom. Once I started reading his story, I was unable to put the book down. After reading excerpts to my students, several went out and purchased the book so that they could read it in its entirety.

I refuse to lower my expectations! I run my classroom as if all students are "gifted," because I believe they are. I am not gifted certified, nor do I ever intend to obtain that certification. All the children who walk through my door are treated as though they are among the best of the best. The greatest challenge is to make them believe it. How do you motivate students who lack self-confidence and are just not interested in school? Not through unjustified praise, but rather by noticing the things they are doing to improve their performance. Noticing a student doing the right thing is the most powerful motivator a teacher can use to ensure success. Instead of having a lot of rules, I simply have one--"No Excuses." Even the most oppositional student understands this simple concept. For the first two weeks of school, I spend some extra time each day discussing with students the importance of being ready to learn and what it means to be prepared. I have a pencil basket and a paper basket out, so there is no excuse for not having the proper supplies. I explain to students that they start the class, because their job assignment is posted in the form of a bell-ringer activity every day. …