If you’ve ever heard a child call himself “stupid” or you’ve witnessed a child burst into tears because the work is too hard, then you have caught a glimpse of the illness that exists in our society and school system. How is it possible for a child of only eight or nine years of age to have such a negative view of himself? Why, instead of approaching a new challenge with confidence would a child feel anxiety? What are we doing wrong?
Some children are naturally more confident or more anxious than others, that’s true. But I firmly believe that when parents and teachers empathize with the child, by trying to understand where the frustration or lack of confidence is coming from, we can build that child up and significantly reduce anxiety levels.
Teachers, the time has come for us to readjust our expectations, not only of ourselves, but of our students and their parents. We need to step back and reevaluate our beliefs and practices. No matter what we dream or imagine for a child, it is not for us to impose our beliefs on them. While parents and teachers ought to expose children to the endless possibilities this amazing world has to offer, children must feel free to dream their own dreams and explore their curiosities.
The standards I set in my classroom are high. Yet, no two students share the exact same set of expectations. Not exactly anyways. Every single one of them is expected to give her best. This best will vary from one day to the next. It will vary from one subject area to another. It will even vary throughout the day depending on fatigue, hunger, motivation, engagement, distraction…
Let go of control. Give children the chance to lead the way in their understanding as much as possible. The act of accepting what is is liberating.
For example, if a student tells me, “I hate writing!”
My response is simply, “That’s okay, you’re allowed to not enjoy writing.”
While I do ask them to rid their vocabulary of the word hate in relation to writing (or anything else for that matter), I do not require them to see themselves as writers.
“You do not see yourself as a writer?”, I say, “That’s okay. Tell me, how do you see yourself? What do you love to do? Do you have dream for your future?”, I implore.
I have yet to meet a student who tells me of a dream for which I cannot find at least one example of how knowing how to write won’t help him to live his dream to the fullest. I find a way to give them a purpose for knowing how to communicate effectively in the written form. I do not insist that they become writers.
The school system is designed to make kids think they have to excel in math, and reading, and writing, and science…This structure does not take into account multiple intelligences. This system does not encourage children to celebrate their uniqueness. We talk about these things, but at the end of the day, we all have to write the same test if we plan to get ahead and be the top of our class…What does it matter to me if the renovators who just updated my kitchen enjoy reading science-fiction or writing poetry? I sure hope they know how to read a ruler and use a drill though! When will we all realize that mastering the basics is essential and the rest can be guided through curiosity, passion, interest and ability? Shouldn’t each child be treated and taught as the unique human being that she is?
The most amazing things happen when we let go of telling children to “try harder” and instead tell them, “It’s okay if you don’t get it right now. It’s also okay if you don’t enjoy this. You don’t need to. Together we’ll try to find ways to help you succeed enough that we both know you will have the skills necessary to achieve your dreams. That’s the big picture. That’s what matters most.”
What I’ve discovered is that when we talk to kids about their dreams, they light up. When we take the pressure off of them to perform to our expectations, they start setting their own goals, in relationship to their own dreams. (This of course, secretly, is our expectation, but they don’t need to know that!) When children know that we only wish to see progress, not perfection, they proudly tell us about their achievements and often, if not always, excel beyond our greatest expectations.
Photo credit goes to Anthony J. D’Angelo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/
Original photo credit: Katie Phillips