Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bestowing the Gift of Self-Confidence to Students

The Gift of Self-Confidence

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

            One of the most important gifts that a teacher can impart to a student is the gift of self-confidence.  To succeed at anything, a person must believe that success is possible.  Many students lack the belief that they could possibly be successful in school or anywhere else; as a result, these same people have difficulty succeeding in life.  Students who doubt their abilities often lack any motivation to try.  If a person does not try, they have no possibility of succeeding.  As a result, an educator must first impart the ability to believe in oneself before the student can begin to succeed. Educators must become Peter Pan to help students fly.

            When I was teaching in an Alternative Education, I was amazed at the students who had no desire to do well in school or even to attempt to do well in school.  After getting to know these students, I discovered that most of them had suffered so many humiliating failures at school that they believed that they were not capable of learning.  They found it was less painful to do nothing, than to attempt anything and fail.  To continually have the belief that they could not succeed reinforced was just too painful for them.  Some of them used outrageous behavior as a way of avoiding this failure. I remember one particular student, Juan, who would not stay in his seat, sang loudly and yelled obscenities across the room to avoid a writing assignment. To reach students like Juan, I had to break down their barriers, get to know them as individuals, persuade them that I was their advocate and I was going to show them how to be successful by celebrating even their smallest achievement.  Being successful can be  rewarding, but to convince these students of that, the teachers needs to break successful behavior into its smallest components and reward for the successful completion of each small step.  For example, I began by rewarding students for coming to class prepared.  Each student who had a pencil and paper was rewarded with a small piece of candy.  Next I created a chart on the board showing the relationship of how a student would feel if he brought this parents a report cards with all “A’s” on it compared to how he would feel if he brought his parents a report card with all “F’s” on it.  Helping a student understand that happiness is directly connected to their success in school is an important step to motivating them to want to succeed.

            Students who feel socially inept are often unhappy at school.  Girls, especially, suffer from social bullying that goes unnoticed by educators.  Our society puts so much emphasis on physical beauty and social position in school that students who do not fit the norm are often isolated.  Girls often exclude these girls from social situations and do not include them even in conversations.  Shunning can be cruel treatment that can cause scars that last a lifetime.  Some of this bullying takes the form of cruel comments in social media or scathing remarks made in a classroom or a hallway.  Students who suffer from these vicious assaults lose their self-esteem and as a result, do poorly academically or feel badly about continuing their education because it is too painful.  This kind of assault is also directed at students of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual community.  As an educator, protecting and supporting students’ self-esteem should be one of our goals. Helping students learn to accept and embrace people who are different from them should be another. For students to do well, all students must feel safe and appreciated. 
            When teachers are writing goals for their classrooms, academic goals are only one dimension of education.  Helping a student feel safe and good about his ability to succeed should be high on the list of objectives. Helping a student accept that others may differ from him, but should still included  in the community without ridicule or attack.   School should prepare students to succeed in life.  If a student has doubts or is not empowered with self-confidence, he cannot succeed.  Like Peter Pan, teachers must bestow the gift of self-confidence.