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Darlene M Caban

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The Infamous "Potential"
by Darlene M Caban   
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Last edited: Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

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Teachers said it every year...

"She's not working up to her potential."

Every year, this was written on the back of my grade-school report card. Every year, I pondered the Catch-22 quality of this statement-- how did the teacher know what my potential WAS if I never worked up to it?

At an early age, I decided that the 'potential' bit was an effort to 'CYA' on the teacher's part... the teacher would blame me for not 'applying' myself during the first grading period, so any failure on my part was due to my own laziness and not any deficiency in her teaching methods-- ingenious! A scholastic version of 'blame the victim!'

I never understood whether the 'not working up to her potential' was a slam at me or my parents-- or both. It almost seemed as if the teacher was saying, "Hey, you idiot parents, can't you see how much POTENTIAL this kid has? Why don't you make her work harder?" I doubt that my fabulous 'potential' included blindly obeying the rules of a teacher who seemed to enjoy starting trouble between a student and her parents.

Every year would start off well, with my getting high grades on the aptitude tests, but within a few months my grades would sink and I'd stop handing in homework. This was back in the 70's, when a child's home life was never inquired into-- whatever problems you had at home weren't 'supposed' to affect your schoolwork. I'd have greatly benefitted from a home study, but that was years away... so I continued to have the 'potential' baloney written on the back of my report card. "Report Card Day' would remain a source of anxiety for my entire school career... it seemed the only 'potential' I ever worked up to was the potential for getting hit when my father saw my grades.

I truly hope that teachers today don't write this idiotic phrase on report cards-- I'd like to think that education has evolved sufficiently to equip teachers with better ways to motivate students. "Potential" should be left to Science class.

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Reviewed by Hilding Lindquist
OK, you definitely have "potential" as a writer ... in this essay, it is "realized" potential.

This was about as good a piece as I have read in a long time ... clear concrete language with active verbs ... with an interweaving of issues ... the next to last paragraph beginning with "Every year would start off well, ... " is an excellent example of that dynamic, leaving the reader hungry for more.

I will definitely look for "more".


Hilding "Gus" Lindquist
Reviewed by Jennifer Butler
Poor thing. My mother always told me that it was not the grades but what I learned that really mattered. I did well until a teacher gave me my first bad grade ever for a misused comma. An "F". I left the room crying. Then the teacher told my friend, "She's too hard on herself."
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