On Friday, we compiled two bar graphs. One was about favorite after school snacks (per the math curriculum), The other was about favorite Narnia characters (my on the fly idea that, capitalizing on their love of The Chronicles of Narnia books I’ve read them, drew rave reviews and kept my kids doing math until the end of the day – no small task on a Friday afternoon).
This weekend I slaved over a questionnaire that I prepared to sustain the excitement of creating bar graphs using data relevant to my students. Trust me, it is a difficult feat to devise 28 interesting, mature questions that have three or more answers. It took me a few sessions over two days, but I completed it. Today, the students shared their responses and compiled data, and they really enjoyed it.
One of the questions I asked was, “What is your favorite way to be recognized for a good effort?” There were three choices: a stamp, a sticker, or a compliment. I figured the sticker would be the most popular choice. Interestingly enough, stickers came in last. Stamps were in the middle. The runaway winner was the compliment.
I wasn’t altogether surprised, but this revelation caused me to think. One of my main bones of contention through my career is the lack of pride students take in their work. With the exception of less than half the class, my students are perfectly willing to produce and submit substandard work that is not reflective of their true capabilities. One of my big initiatives as a molder of children’s minds and attitudes is pushing the fact that you should always give your best effort no matter what you do. I encourage my students to do work in which they can take pride, and I try to support this as best I can with lots of praise for effort.
It’s a challenge to get my students to internalize these ideas. Was I much different at their age? No, I don’t think so. Things didn’t click for me until college. However, I had more opportunities available to me as a child – educators in the family, highly involved parents, a dedicated older sister, and a community that fostered my development. No doubt, these intangibles influenced me as a youngster, no matter how lazy I may have been, and helped me to become who I eventually did.
Now, as a teacher, though, I don’t want to sit around waiting for my students to get to college for things to click. It’s a long and often difficult road after elementary school, and one that can sabotage the hopes of even the most motivated. This is true for all children, of course, yet these are my students. They are my concern.
How does a teacher instill his own value of hard work on his class? How do I impress the importance of challenging oneself to go places one hasn’t been? My students know I work hard and am always prepared for them. I tell them, “I’m prepared for you.” I ask, “Shouldn’t you be prepared for me?” But guilt doesn’t work. I remind them that middle school is around the corner. They think about this briefly, let their eyes well up, and then regress back to average.
I’m not asking anyone to be something they’re not. All I want is for my students to do their homework with pride and hand in work that I shouldn’t dread looking at. If only they could understand how happy it makes me to see them do well. These are difficult ideas to impress upon a child, but I try.
When we get there, I’ll give them a sticker. Or a stamp. And, certainly, a compliment.
To dispel the appearance of being all doom and gloom, I’ll tell a brief story from school today. My lowest reader was up for a reading assessment. He’s normally a quiet young man who hardly ever raises his hand. When I talk to him, he smiles very shyly.
When he read to me today, he did it with such fluency, expression, and confidence, that it wasn’t a task to listen to him. Rather, it was a pleasure. I was blown away. I told him how impressed I was, and he smiled, said thank you, and averted my eyes. He answered the questions about the passage rather nicely and moved to the next reading level. I couldn’t tell him enough how thrilled I was with him. When he went to choose new books, I watched him smiling and turning red as other kids complimented him. He had every reason to be proud of himself, and I am proud, as well.
If only each child could recognize the magic to be found in doing a job well and being recognized by the people who care for you. One day, I will unlock this secret, and I will consider myself having done something monumentally important for my students. Let’s hope the day arrives sooner than later.