Effective schools are about so much more than just memorization of academic facts. The very best schools have teachers who come into the profession to change lives. They come into the classroom to share their passion for a subject, but refuse to stop there. They want to make a permanent difference in their students’ lives. They are constantly looking for ways to make that happen.
But sometimes the challenges teachers face in the classroom seem insurmountable. Our American schools welcome every learning style, nationality, culture, and disability. They welcome students who are homeless, children of incarcerated parents, children born with the consequences of their parents’ drug addictions and/or illiteracy. That is what makes America wonderful and unique. We value and are dedicated to an education for all children. Our schools are not merely available for elite learners, as is the case in many other countries to whom we are unfavorably compared. Committed teachers in the USA make it happen whether or not they have the financial support of their community, the supplies they need or the training they crave.
These days I help supervise and train young teachers. They are optimistic, committed and begging for ideas to make a positive difference in their students’ lives.
Are Your Students Afraid?
Here’s an important piece of information not all students know or believe. You (the teacher) have to tell them or they won’t know. Everyone is afraid. Adults are afraid when they start a new job, are assigned a new project or (gasp!) face new computer software in the workplace. Many celebrities are afraid when they take the stage. Great speakers are often afraid before a speech.
What separates the successes from the people who just stand along the sidelines and never get started isn’t the lack of being afraid. They simply take action in spite of being afraid. Only action can overcome fear. When we are afraid of something and don’t confront it, the fear grows. Inactivity fertilizes fear. Next time we experience that situation we are even more afraid. I have a crazy friend who is so terrified of bugs that she drove a car without air conditioning with the windows completely rolled up in Florida during the summer time because she was afraid a bug might fly in the window while she was driving. It was probably 120 degrees inside that car. I know because I was in it! (I wish I had just made that up but unfortunately it is a true story).
Only action breaks the chain of fear. What can a teacher do? Talk to students about a time you were afraid. I was almost fifty when I wrote my first book. Was I afraid no one would want to read it? Yes. Talk to them honestly and frankly about how you overcame a fear. Help them make a plan for confronting something they have been afraid of approaching. If we don’t do this, when they feel fear they may believe it is reason to give up on a dream. They may believe that experiencing the fear is a sign telling them it is not wise to move forward. They need to understand that fear is just a step in the process and that every successful person faces it and pushes forward anyway.
Believe in Your Students
This is an outrageously obvious but too frequently overlooked concept. Children very frequently see their future successes first through the eyes of an adult whom they love or admire. Even before they can dream a dream for themselves we can plant a seed within them. Watch how still and receptive they become when you begin telling them about a skill in which you see them excel. I’ve told many teens that they are better writers that I was at their age. I’m not faking this. It’s the truth and that’s important. Children can discern honesty. I tell them I can’t wait to read their first book. I ask them in advance for an autographed copy of their future books. Someday I know I’ll have those books on my shelf.
Usually when we truly have a gift we don’t notice it so much. It comes easily to us and we assume everyone can do it. We believe if we can do this so easily, it must not be any big deal It is a breakthrough moment when we realize that the thing we do which seems so trivial to us, is a talent that others admire.
It’s easy for me to be in awe of students with artistic ability as I have absolutely no talent whatsoever along these lines. But I can compliment them, ask them to design contest posters and scrapbook pages I can ask them for a copy of a favorite drawing to hang in my classroom. I don’t have to be an art teacher to help them realize they have artistic talent. All of these strategies are outside my curriculum, but encouraging a talent which may become a future career may be the most important thing that takes place in my classroom on any given day. Recently I was watching a documentary on a famous Hollywood artist. How did his dream to make art his career begin? His kindergarten teacher stood him up in front of her class and told his peers that he would be a famous artist someday. Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s words to shape a life.
Look for ways to help the important children in your life to think creatively about careers. There are thousands of careers that our children never think about simply because they have no awareness of them. The same is true of adults.
When my younger daughter was sick it was quite an eye opener for me in so many ways. I never realized that hospitals are actually small communities. It takes so many kinds of careers to make a hospital effective. Why do we only think of the doctors and nurses?
I began to ask each technician about their job. How did you find out about this career? What do you like about your job? How much schooling do you need? I learned about phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, x-ray and MRI technicians, social workers, audiologists, patient advocates, dieticians, child life specialists and the person who weighs and measures your child each time you visit the oncology clinic.
One little girl I taught in preschool eventually became the person who runs the machine in the operating room that keeps patients alive during heart and lung transplants. We need to develop a curiosity about careers so we can help our children find just the right one that ignites a flame in their spirit. Our curiosity and sharing will encourage their curiosity to explore. Have them think creatively. What do they love to do that they could turn into a career? What inspires them? The most satisfied adults turn their favorite pastimes into careers by thinking creatively.
Great teachers teach much more than the curriculum. They excite learners. They recognize and encourage talents. They explore and share possibilities. They listen, counsel, and validate the worth of every student. They are not satisfied until they TEACH…To Change Lives.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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