Monday, September 19, 2011


For the past three months, I have waged war on the ants living around, on, and unfortunately in my house. Figuring I could win this battle without the help of trained professionals (by no means is the problem an infestation- we'd find a stray ant inside the house here or there- but lots outside working like mad to find breaches in our house's security), I sprayed these pests on a weekly basis. I even went so far as to plug up tiny cracks and holes in the house's joints and corners with new caulk. Despite my onslaught of chemicals and my attempts to reinforce my house's barriers, the ants always seemed to come back.

As such, Emily had an exterminator on the premises this past week. Even though my bug fighting and killing experience and repertoire of strategies pales in comparison to this expert, I'm starting to think that the ants are just too resilient to be defeated.

Or maybe just too numerous- ants are everywhere. Their army seems to have an unlimited supply of troops. I hope that our extreme measure proves to be successful; the grittiness of my lilliputian nemeses, though, is impressive enough to instill doubt. After all, ants can carry more than five times their body weight. I would be lucky to still be able to lift 1.5 times my own. And, even though we called for reinforcements, my team is greatly outnumbered.

In brainstorming possible ways to hold the line, I started to develop a rivalry-esque respect for my six legged opponents. Their unwavering determination and will astounded me. The more I tried to keep them at bay, the faster and more numerous they seemed to grow. I can just imagine them clenching their mouths, rolling up their sleeves, digging their heels into the ground, maybe even spitting once or twice and yelling to each other, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"

In personifying these insects and identifying a soft spot in my heart for them, I also reflected on the importance of this character trait in not only students but also teachers. Resiliency, determination, grit. Our pampered, fast-food, instant gratification lifestyles have massaged any toughness right out of us. For those who have faced difficulty, there's likely a law, diagnosis (and corresponding medication), talk show, or watered down educational/accountability system that can offer these "victims" easy relief. Not a way out of the difficulty, just a way to make it not as rough.

Without pressure and heat, there would be no such things as a diamond. Iron is made into steel by removing impurities through extreme heat. Sometimes a plant must be pruned back before it can fully blossom.

One of the most important lessons we can teach our students and one of the most important character traits we should foster and develop is resiliency. How to weather a storm. How to work hard to overcome a difficulty. How to roll up their sleeves and say to a classmate, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"

To build resiliency in students we push them. Challenge them. We hold them accountable for academics and behavior. We deal with them in fair and consistent ways. Most importantly, we model it. We follow through on everything. We mean what we say and say what we mean. We push ourselves to overcome challenges and difficulties. We ensure our preparedness and professionalism. We believe that every student can be reached, taught and improved.

Timothy Daly of the New Teacher Project puts it in these terms, "At the end of day it's the mindset that teachers need- a kind of relentless approach to the problem," This approach can, under any set of circumstances, ensure student success.

Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues, "Those who initially scored high for 'grit'- defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple choice test-- were 31% more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students" (

So, then the question becomes, "How do you create resilient teachers?" Unfortunately, it's harder to do with adults than children. The approach is the same, though. Push, challenge, follow through, hold them accountable, be fair, be consistent, model it.

Teachers, like ants, are impressively strong creatures. Able to do so much more than carry five times their "body weight", a resilient teacher will guarantee that all students thrive. A resilient teacher will develop resilient students. Resilient students will be able to do...just about anything.