Self-esteem is not…

self esteemBuilding self-esteem is NOT about creating false expectations that the world will be easy.

It IS about showing kids that they have talents and can please people.

Building self-esteem is NOT about cultivating self-centered kids who expect the world to bow to them.

It IS about healing children’s hearts that have been broken by broken families.

Self-esteem is NOT about deluded them about competition and making them think they will win without effort, discipline and vision.

It IS about fostering effort, discipline and vision in people who have none.

Self-esteem is NOT about flattery or false praise.

It IS about finding positives in a world accustomed to negatives.

I’m a believer in self-esteem building. My close friend came from a very broken home. I can’t print the words he used to describe his parents. He had an old school teacher who ran his classroom like a dictatorship. As much of a jerk as he was, the teacher left my friend with a golden nugget. At the end of the semester he said. “It’s too bad you waste so much talent.”

My friend’s take-away? For the first time in his life, he got the notion that he was good at something. He possessed “so much talent.”

This prompted him to try to get into an advanced writing class, to which he was admitted. Ultimately he went to college, the first in his extended family to do so.

That is what self-esteem building is about.


The $6 million student

value of studentThe kids couldn’t believe we didn’t sell the school building and just close the school. The real estate agent said it would fetch $6 million. Keeping the small private school open couldn’t possibly be worth so much money, they marveled.

Then I started class. “Each and every one of you kids is individually worth more than $6 million,” I told them. That seemed to score points with the usually cantankerous kids. But it’s much more; it’s a reality.

We have to teach truly believing that those students are the most important thing around. Then we’ll have successful and vibrant education.

Day of joy in teaching

jigsaw puzzleAs a student of languages and as a bilingual teacher, I have seen the “jigsaw puzzle moment.”

There comes a moment, when you put together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, that you can make out the picture. It looks more like the picture on the box front and less like an amorphous jumble. That happens when studying a language. There comes a moment when you understand more than you don’t. That’s a joyous day.

When does that day come? Somewhere after piece 500. In the meantime, you are painstakingly learning vocab and grammar, one piece at a time (the day’s lesson). It can be arduous and despairing (“when will I ever learn this language???”). But just as in the jigsaw puzzle as with the language, all advance from that day on is downhill. It’s fun, a mad rush towards total fluency, the satisfaction of snapping in the last piece and admiring your work. Congratulations, you’re bilingual.

I imagine that moment happens for math and science too! (I must admit, I don’t know if the light ever fully came on for me as a student in these studies).

Improving your teaching: One thing helped me

improving your teachingI went back to school. I had good and bad professors. I was treated unfairly and humiliated sometimes. Being on the other side of the teacher’s desk helped revolutionize my teaching.

I would listen to students. I would legitimate their struggles, not scoff at them and dismiss them. I would be clearer with my instructions and assignments. I would be less dictatorial.

Every teacher should, at some point, go back for some more education — not just to get the latest and greatest theories. No, the purpose is to be the receiving end of someone else’s teaching, to feel the sting of the ogre prof. That will make you swear to never be like that. And your students will appreciate it.

Probably all of us teachers swear by what were doing: “Nobody teaches better than me.” But when we get into a class and change our perspective (to that of a student’s), then we can reflect about what we do. We see it through other eyes. Maybe some teaching technique we confidently use, really isn’t so good after all. Sitting among the classmates helps that.

Reform education? Reform the home

Education Reform

Reforming education has become a political football. There are those who promise revolutionary change and those who talk without doing anything.

Surely, there are many great techniques and shifts in tactics to improve output. BUT the real problem is the broken home. Without mom and dad at home pushing Johnny to get the grade, reform is doomed to modest results at best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for honing. I favor paradigm shifts. What I oppose is charlatan fads exploited by unscrupulous politicians (forgive the redundancy) that sway public opinion momentarily without delivering better graduates.

I realize that there are those who make their living promoting reform. I congratulate all sincere efforts that seek better results. But I’m a bit skeptical. Learning will always involve some amount of plain, old, boring work. You can sing the times tables, if that works for you. But at the end of the day, you had better know how to sing your way through a complex multiplication and division problem. Results are what counts.

A change-up in methodology can be good. Hocus pocus, not so.

However you approach it, at the end of the day, students need to know how to write, to do math, to analyze, to think critically. No doubt teachers play a critical role. But a heartbreak from home to ruin a student in class. It’s great to be dynamic teachers, but if Sarah Sue is crying inside, she might not be paying attention to anything Mrs. Summersault is saying.

Please, please, please, for good of students, keep your home together.