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ISBN: 9781935552017
Tough Love Teacher
Mohammed Hussain

Mohammed, a strong student, argues that exacting standards are the secret ingredient to outstanding teaching. He recalls an 8th grade teacher, Mr. Seltzer, as an exemplary model of “tough love.” A high bar is doubtless more effective for some students than others. While Mohammed is startled out of complacency by unaccustomed low grades and pushes himself in a way he hasn’t had to before, shakier students are more likely to be discouraged. Still, by showing obvious affection and regard for all his students, Mohammed’s teacher creates an atmosphere that makes kids want to win his approval.

Every teacher instructs in a different way, and some methods are bound to be more popular with students than others. “Tough love”—treating students as individuals who must take responsibility, rather than as immature, prepubescent teens—isn’t always what students want. But for me, it’s the most effective teaching method of all.

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Mr. Seltzer, my 8th grade English teacher, was the embodiment of austerity. Tests were difficult and seemed fit for a college student. Pop quizzes could be given at any time. He gave us a lot of homework and expected us to do it; neglecting assignments had a tremendous adverse affect on our grades.

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Throughout the year, we wrote frequently—outlines, research papers, book reports—and Mr. Seltzer expected us to produce quality work every day. He graded our work harshly, checking grammar and punctuation and making sure our writing was clear and direct. Low grades were common. When I saw my low grades at the start of the year—in the 70s, when I was used to 90s—I realized that I could easily fail the class. By the end of the year, I had an 80 average. Though this was lower than I was used to, it meant more to me than a 90 from another teacher: An 80 from Mr. Seltzer was a real accomplishment.

Mr. Seltzer’s “tough love” made me a better student. If we made mistakes on written work, and we usually did, we were expected to rewrite the assignment. In fact, we almost always wrote multiple drafts. Editing and revising my work—checking my mistakes and, then, doing my best not to repeat them—helped me enormously. Because tests were difficult, I spent days studying for them, and the study skills I developed back in 8th grade have helped me perform extremely well in high school.

Mr. Seltzer held us to extremely high standards. Still, he was never boorish or a jerk to us. We could see his affection and regard for us despite his sternness. He once commented to me that he had many children, and it was not until later that I realized that he was talking about his students. To Mr. Seltzer, we were his children and he expected us to be amazing and not disappoint him: just what he’d expect of his own children. In turn, all of his students—those who loved to learn, and even those who were not particularly motivated to do so—tried their best to live up to his standards.

A version of this story appeared in Student Voices: What Makes a Great Teacher?, a collaboration between Youth Communication, the College Board, and the National Writing Project.

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