As our nation begins transitioning back to school, and because teachers are one of our most important collaborators in raising our children, I thought I’d devote this entry to teachers.
In my years of working collaboratively with teachers I have become a big fan of the profession. Just as I find most parents love their kids more than their own lives, I find that most teachers are in the game because they wish to make an important difference in the lives of kids. Their primary motivation is not money–if so a teacher has had bad career counseling–it is mission. For this reason, I would like to offer the top three things I wish teachers would remember, or realize, when trying to teach our kids.
In case studies of children who have faced adversity, but who came out on the other side of it well adjusted, a teacher is often sited as having made a critically important contribution. Those benefited by the teachers’ gifts don’t necessarily recall the academic content that was covered, but they recall the human investment. “Mr. Roberts was the first one who ever believed in me.” “Mrs. Johnson reached out to me when I was at my lowest.” “Ms. Jackson never gave up on me even though I was a real pain.” As someone who both named his only son after a teacher, and who also teaches, I can tell you that it need not take much time and energy to have a tremendous impact. Sharing a lunch, writing a note, arranging for a little tutoring, etc. can make a mighty difference, though it may not be obvious. For instance, I once discovered that I student of mine had laminated a complimentary sticky note I attached to a report she wrote; I learned about this months later when she told me that she read it whenever she needed a boost.
You can serve a pivotal role in helping students to identify their strengths.
Their are at least two reasons why knowing one’s strengths is important: such is pivotal to the formation of a positive self-esteem and knowing one’s strengths aides in effective educational and vocational planning. That said, many kids (and adults) do not know their top strengths and may even find the concept foreign. Teachers have many opportunities to either mirror kids strengths back to them or to assist kids in identifying their top strengths. The former can happen simply by expressing thoughts you have about any special abilities a student is showing. It can also happen by putting a kid on display for a positive contribution. The teacher I mentioned I named my son after, upon having seen me perform in a school play, wrote my name on the board the next Monday morning; he noted it was there in order to recognize an outstanding performance. Though I probably sat their without much of an expression on my face, that simple gesture made my month.
Teachers can help identify top strengths by encouraging exploration of uncharted interests in a student’s life. Unimpeded, and assuming basic conditions for growth are in place, trees grow their branches around obstacles towards the light. Unimpeded, and assuming basic conditions for growth are in place, children grow their interests and behaviors towards their competencies. Teachers might also encourage students to fill out instruments which can aide in developing theories about their top strengths (e.g., the VIA Signature Strengths Survey for Children, StrengthsExplorer, etc.).
As any case study of a famous, popular and wealthy person who committed suicide can illustrate, more determinative of mood is what we make of what happens in our lives, not what actually happens. As just one example, consider the script: crisis = pain + opportunity. A crisis is like a siamese twin. Resilient minds are not in denial about the pain that is attached to unfortunate twists of fate. However, they then go on to look for the opportunity that is always attached. Teachers can encourage their students to learn this truth by providing examples. This agenda could be incorporated into many lesson plans (e.g., in English students could read stories with this lesson; in history students could hear examples of this formula; in many academic classes satisfaction and new skill sets are borne out of the pain involved in certain mental pursuits, etc.). And, when bad things happen in students’ lives advisers can encourage, after the pain has been given its due, the search for the opportunity imbued within, perhaps while also providing personal illustrations.
In closing I salute you for your mission, especially when you execute it well on those days when no adults are watching and dialing it in would be all so easy to do. And, remember, if you have children who are not responding to your efforts, an army of qualified mental health professionals is dispersed across our country. To find such a person in your vicinity, click here.