Living In Potential Prison

I will admit it. I struggled this past week.  I know why too.  I want to save every kid and I know I can’t. Trust me.  I have the GED track record to prove it. And this week I extended my streak and it is killing me inside.  Adding a student’s name to the drop out list never gets easier.  For someone who takes great pride in being a champion for kids, it is a hard pill to swallow.

This morning I read a post by @MrPowersCMS, entitled, “Full Disclosure” us to take time to write for ourselves in order to get through those difficult professional moments that sometimes makes us want to question our impact as educators.  So I wrote this post for me today.  But I also wrote it for my PLN on twitter and for all of you who have ever experienced that very moment where a student feels like giving up.
There are days, weeks, months, and even years, when emotionally I give everything I have to a student (and in most cases their families) and when they hurt, I hurt.  After twenty years as a school administrator, I can’t help it. I want to see every student reach their potential.  I don’t want them living in potential prison.  I want to see our students reach their potential freedom so they can experience firsthand the joy and feeling that comes with accomplishing something significant.  
This past week tested my resiliency as a school leader as I struggled to successfully address and come up with solutions to help some of my students deal with their ongoing personal crisis.  From my conversations, one student shared he didn’t  believe I cared about him.  One person spoke of being on a path of self-destruction and feeling like there wasn’t anyone who could help him. One student felt like the school system was placing limits on his academic abilities. Another student described how she walks the hallways after each class period with hundreds of students yet feels as though the hallways are empty and she is alone.  And finally, for one young man, school was still a place where a team of adults come together like a parole board to determine his future.
I have shared in prior posts that I struggled in school throughout my educational schooling.  Part of my motivation in becoming a school leader was to take my personal experiences and use those experiences to help others; to recognize that every student has the potential to make a positive impact.  So when I feel like I am not able to make a difference with a student, well, it is hard not to take it personally.  I don’t mean personally like I think it is about me.  I mean personally as in I feel helpless that I am unable to come up with a solution at that moment to help a student who is feeling hopeless and lost.
I know from personal conversations with some students, they still believe school is an ‘institution” which puts limits on their potential.   They share stories of being told for years they can’t do this or they can’t do that.  They believe the system categorized them throughout their school experience and labeled them as average, low ability/reader, at-risk, potential drop out, special needs, etc. and then watched as the same “institution” labeled others as an honors student, talented and gifted, college bound, and AP potential.  And others, they speak of unfulfilled promises by adults and a system which assured them of success only to find out they meant success for those who were willing to play the game of school and were compliant.  Some of these students now attend school in body, but are not there in mind and in spirit.  In other words, they have checked out and are just hanging around the prison yard of potential waiting to escape.
I am a believer that every child needs a champion who cares about them and is willing to encourage them.  But they also need someone to take notice of their skills and then provide them the strategies and an understanding of how to use those skill sets in order to thrive.  There are a myriad of variables that come into play which determines why some students are successful and some students are not when we are dealing with our most challenged students.  Regardless of how difficult my week was, I know from past experiences (both personal and professional) that I must remain focused on the long term and maintain faith and hope that I have made a significant impact in some way.  After all, I made the decision long ago to give of myself in every capacity with no expectations of getting anything in return, but to help the greater cause.   As my good friend @TechNinjaTodd also reminded me this morning in his post, “I Am A Champion and You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar”
So hear me roar now! Our kids matter and I am going to continue to fight for every one of them, knowing full well I can’t save every one of them. But I am also not going to use that as an excuse not to try. It is not my place to judge their contribution to our school community, but it is mine to own that I provide a means for them to share their skills and talents and/or help them acquire the necessary skills and strategies to improve their chances of not walking out as a prisoner of potential but rather a promise of expectations fulfilled.

“Everyone person wants to matter.  Everyone wants to do work that matters.  Secure their heart and their passion and you will be inspired by their contribution.” – Angela Maiers


  • Jimmy, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You continue to inspire me to keep going, recognizing that we must continue to Be the Change- even when we may not feel that we are making a difference. Knowing that it isn’t about us-it’s about THEM, knowing that we may not save them all, but that we have to try. You Matter, my friend.

    • jimmycasas says:

      Thank you Leah. As you know, so difficult to watch kids walk away and give up. I will keep the faith because many come back. They are just not ready, but when they are, I will be here waiting for them to welcome them back. Keep believing my friend! – jimmy

  • Joy Kirr says:

    You are not alone, Jimmy. This post reminds me of those starfish… Do you know them? “If I can save just one, it will be worth it.” Thank you for pouring your heart out and tackling this through a blog post. Keep reminding yourself that you are only human, but you are going to keep doing all you can. Like Leah said, you matter… YES.

    • jimmycasas says:

      I appreciate it Joy. Emotionally, some days take its toll more than others, but experiencing and enjoying the success of one student makes it all worth it. I am pretty resilient, so I promise to keep fighting the good fight. Thanks again. – jimmy

  • Jason Markey says:

    As always Jimmy you are a role model to us all in education to fight for every student and meet them where they are as best we can. Thank you for laser like focus on students and their needs, the message is timeless and essential.

    • jimmycasas says:

      Thank you my friend. I appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment. I have watched your development over time from great teacher to great principal and I couldn’t be more proud. So glad to be a friend and look forward to experiencing more great things from you as well as together. – jimmy

  • Thank you Jimmy for such a timely post as we go back to school. Yes, our heart is going to fall on hard times, cross roads for students in education will twist at our hearts as we go to bed. However, it is people like you and others who believe that each child matters in this world. Their soul matters, their hopes matter and we are just here on Earth as educators to lay down a few puzzle pieces in their lives, or a few stitches in their quilt of life. The glory of who they were created and designed to be will not be revealed to us when we want it, but it will be revealed in due season. One day, the puzzle will be finished. One day the quilt will be completed and all understanding will be reached…but until that one day comes, we carry on with compassion, love, and keep being a champion for those children that enter our life for a season. Again, thank you for the great post.

    • jimmycasas says:

      Thank you Kimberly. Love your positive attitude and your spirit. Yes, it is so important to have faith and keep thinking long term vs. short term. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read my post and comment. – jimmy

  • Elisabeth says:

    Enjoyed this post. Definitely got me thinking. We can’t always see the ways we save kids; we don’t always save kids in the way we want to save them. I have come to believe that maybe we need to define saving more broadly. I taught juniors and seniors on an Indian reservation with a very high drop-out rate. No matter how good I was as a teacher, no matter how hard I worked, I was not able to get every student through my class and through high school. Every drop-out, every expulsion, was painful and felt like my own personal failure. But I still hear from many of the students I felt like I failed, and what they learned from me was maybe, in the end, more valuable than what I thought I was teaching them (which was English). What they learned was hope, possibility; they learned that someone believed they were worth saving. And I do believe that resonates long-term in ways we can’t predict or measure.

    • jimmycasas says:

      I think that is so true. In our minds we have a view of what “saved” looks like and when we feel we have lost a student, it is hard not to take it personally because of what we have invested – our time, our faith, our emotion, our love. However, it is often these same students who come back to say thank you and lift our spirits to keep believing. Thanks for the read and kind words! – jimmy

  • Well said, Jimmy. You’re a true inspiration and I suspect the number of kids who you’ve helped realize their worth and potential is astronomical. Our every interaction convinces me that you save many “starfish” everyday. As I read your post I couldn’t help but think about the system you wage war with each day on behalf of those kids; with its implicit and explicit rules that constantly fight against your efforts. My moments of despair and disillusionment is when I see the truly great educators who see the possibility in front of us but have grown momentarily weary of the constant beat-back the system provides. The power of the default culture is formidable. You have to fight every day against a system construct that sends counter messages through grades, points, bells aka Pavlov, isolation of poeple and subjects, and decontextualization. We have much work to do but what we do matters more than anything! -Trace

    • jimmycasas says:

      Wow! Thank you my friend. Your comments mean so much to me because of how much I respect the work you do for our kids. Regardless of how weary I may get, I am determined to always fight through because I know our kids depend on us. Our children are our greatest asset and we must always make them our priority when it comes to advocating for what is right. Yes, we have much work to do, but together we can be the change! – jimmy

  • Thanks Jimmy for this post. It’s very timely for me as I’m finding myself in a somewhat similar spot, yet, mine students are sixth graders. They should be filled with passion and life about school but are finding those same labels that you speak of. I struggle, yet I see hope in their potential, I see the world before them, and I see how they could change the world given the right voice.

    I appreciate your honesty that helps to drive us all to do better for our students, our families, our schools, and ourselves. Good luck and let them hear you roar!

    • jimmycasas says:

      Thank you Darin.

      I greatly admire the work you do and it is evident how much you care for your students. Thank you for your continued support and for advocating for our kids. My roar is strong and I look forward to our continued friendship. God bless! – jimmy

  • michelle says:

    good stuff here, Jimmy. the school, the kids, the community, the world – all fortunate to have you caring about the Greater Good. Right on.