It’s fall premiere season on television, and while I don’t watch much TV, I did find myself drawn to an old favorite this week: The Biggest Loser.
(If you don’t know about the show, in a nutshell, it is a weight-loss competition among 15 obese individuals, separated into teams of 5, each driven by their own uniquely motivational trainer.)
I always enjoyed this show for its inspirational qualities. There are common themes that course through every season: self-doubt, belonging, desire to change, and always, pride. The presence of these universal motifs to which we can all relate no doubt contributes greatly to the success of the show.
Watching this week’s premiere, I found myself connecting to the show more than I ever have. The reason? My students.
It turns out each of the themes listed above is common to our students, too.
Self-Doubt In the first episode of the season, grown men were reduced to tears by the overwhelming emotional burdens of embarrassment and their belief that they were nothing but a disappointment to their loved ones. So many of the contestants come to the show with no sense of self-worth. Does this sound like your students sometimes? I’ve known kids who are so tethered to the belief that they can’t do something that it leaves them paralyzed and mortified.
On The Biggest Loser, trainers deal with these issues by screaming motivations at the wounded, essentially demanding them to consider who they are and who they want to be. Inevitably, though, the trainer comes out of that mode and becomes the sensitive support the person needs. I do that, too. Sometimes I am so befuddled by the disconnect between what I see in my students and what they see in themselves that I become angry at them. Once we both get it out of our system, I am able to be more rational, more uplifting, more supportive. The kids appreciate this: in clearheaded moments they are able to better appreciate what I’m saying and can consider the possibilities for themselves. Without doubt, we figure it out.
Belonging Another inspirational aspect of the show is the strength of the teams. They rely on each other. They believe in each other. They support each other. They understand that the team is significantly diminished by the absence of even just one person’s contributions. In essence, the team members know that everyone on the team matters.
I am a major believer – in fact, it’s really become the core of my educational philosophy – in the absolute necessity of a family/team mentality in the classroom. This year, I’ve shared stories of how they’ve supported each other and how they’ve supported me. They might not be ready to articulate it, but I am willing to bet that the students all feel the same way I do: everyone in that room is vital to our class. There is no insignificant contributor. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Desire to Change No contestant applies for The Biggest Loser just for kicks. They do it because they have hit bottom and want to make a change. It is a brutal experience just watching it sometimes. The workouts are insanely intense. The emotions run wild and range all over the place. The trainers are there to drive the change, but they don’t always do it with a smile on their face. They break their teams down into pieces. They beat them to a sweaty pulp. There is no mercy. Yet, at the end, the contestants inevitably come away saying “My trainer changed my life.” While I don’t advocate driving students as hard as the trainers drive their teams, I do believe that we need to be strong, persistent, and insistent with our students. This year in particular, I feel this more than ever because we set goals on day one and have been threading hopes and dreams throughout the entire year. If you dream it, you can achieve it.
Pride At the end of the first episode, contestants stood on the scale for the weekly weigh-in. Some people lost nearly 30 pounds in a week. As one trainer said, “Now we’re seeing those frowns turn to smiles.” Even the contestant who lost the least – four pounds – HAS to be proud. A loss is a loss and her hard work paid off. Our students need to be able to have pride in their own accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. One of my girls came to me writing her lowercase y and g above the line. She’s breaking that habit, and even though it seems minor, it is definitely a cause for celebration! Her smile when I point out that she’s making the letters properly is great for all of us to see – but best for her. You CAN do it!
Let’s commit ourselves to being the trainers – the change agents – our students crave. Let’s believe in them and tell them at every turn how wonderful they are. Let’s push them where they didn’t think they could go. Let’s always celebrate them for who they are and who they will become. Let’s make sure we leave them in a better place than when they came to us.
Let’s leave our students saying, “My teacher changed my life.”