Never Tell Children They Will Amount To Nothing

I had lunch alone today at a local Japanese restaurant with a Kate Chopin book and my Blackberry for company.  A lovely young man sitting diagonally across from me is also lunching alone and strikes up a conversation.  He’s fidgety and friendly like you’d never believe – he shoots all sorts of questions at me trying to find some common ground from which we can converse.  Within a matter of seconds I learn where in Ontario he’s from, his love of cooking, his girlfriend is six months pregnant with their first daughter and that he has a learning disability.

He instantly relates when I tell him I am on summer holidays because I am a secondary school English teacher.  His first response is to tell me that at the end of the school year when he was in grade 7, his French teacher told him “The next step for you from here is jail”.  He laughed.  I bet he wasn’t laughing when he was 12.

He now owns his own heating and air conditioning company, makes six figures yearly and runs his company smoothly – managing employees, new customers, buildings, and he loves it.

He told me that school was never for him.  It didn’t matter what a teacher did, his attention was always focused elsewhere and it was work that finally brought him a sense of accomplishment.  He explained to me how his mind worked every time he had reading or an assignment to do – I was fascinated.  He would easily learn about everything around him except for the assigned task.  Obviously, as a disengaged 12 year-old I can’t imagine he was easy to manage in a classroom – but that still did not give that teacher the right to forecast such a dire future for him.  Jail? Really?

Ironically enough, that teacher had problems with her air conditioner recently and was flabbergasted when he showed up at her door to fix it.  She had the audacity to repeat her comment and then say “I can’t believe I’m giving you money to fix my air conditioner”.  Guess some people never learn.

My point is this: as educators we come across some really interesting characters.  Some students will truly stay with us forever – because they remind us of ourselves, because they have inspired us, because they are ten million times more intelligent than we are and because they have challenged us to the point of wishing we could have a stiff drink at work to get through our day with them.  Regardless, it is never, ever acceptable to tell a child that they will amount to nothing, worse than nothing, that they will be delinquents and end up in prison.

It will be that student that will help you out of a jam down the road – and I for one would like them to do it out of respect and gratitude for what I tried to do to help them, not spite for humilating them.

We must watch the weight of our words – they live on far longer than we realize.  Thankfully, I work with many teachers who honour their students, think about they say and the impact it will leave on a child.

Did a teacher ever say something to you that you would love to respond to now? Or, conversely did a teacher say something that helped to shape the path of your life in a positive way?

13 thoughts on “Never Tell Children They Will Amount To Nothing

  1. I was very lucky to have had (mostly) amazing teachers all the way through my school years (including college). The only thing that irritates me to this day is the time my 2nd grade teacher told me I couldn’t be ambidextrous for the rest of my life and that I would need to permanently choose which hand to write with. I listened and chose my left hand because my left hand because my father is left-handed, but I sure wish I was still ambidextrous. I also think I should have been right-handed because the only thing I really do with my left hand is write.


    1. It’s amazing how one comment can stay with a person forever….this happened to you in grade 2 and you are now an adult, with children and it still irritates you. Sometimes it’s tough because as teachers we believe we are doing a service to our students by being honest, but that isn’t always the case. Thanks for sharing!


  2. I had a math teacher in 7th grade who brought me up to the front of the classroom and humiliated me in front of all my peers saying, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you understand this [math] problem? It should be easy!” To this day I lack confidence in math but I’ll be darned if I let any of that discouragement pass on to my own children, especially my daughters!

    Thanks for this insightful, powerful post.


    1. Thank you so much! Wow! You’re right about not letting that happen to our children. There is no way any adult will ever get away with disempowering my child like that. That was a humiliating experience, what would you say to her today? It’s too bad about you and math – although I understand because I never really got along with it either. Thanks for reading and sharing.


  3. Don’t know what I would say to him (math teacher was a man) now as an adult, but if I could go back to that moment and be a 33-year-old in the body of a seventh grader, I’d say very calmly, “Perhaps we should be asking YOU why I don’t understand this problem. You are the teacher after all.” ; )


  4. What a great story! I never had any really awful teachers like the man in your post did, though one teacher did take advantage of my shyness to wonder if I was a hitman or had a ‘list’ of students. He was a very strange man, that teacher, and was later fired for pictures he had of a former student. I understand that teaching can be stressful, but it’s not fair to the student to lay out all of your disappointments on them.


    1. Thanks! I had fantastic teachers throughout my schooling and am so grateful for it. You’re right about not laying disappointments on students – it is a very difficult job because no matter what is happening in your personal life, you can’t hide in an office. Your students need you there everyday – regardless of what you’re feeling. Thanks for commenting.


  5. Hmm…my teachers didn’t think I would amount to much either. I wasn’t very focused on academics, though I thought computers were interesting. I remember when my physics teacher gave me a pitying look when I said I want to work in IT.


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