being a teacher, self, students

What’s so Bad about "Smart?"

I once had a student tell me they were not smart.  They would never get good grades, that they would never be a success. This 4th grader, already beaten down by the school system and themselves, thought they would never be successful.  That school was for kids that got it, for kids that already understood, for kids that were born smart.  Smart was not something you became, it was something you already were, and it was completely outside of their reach.

How many of these kids walk our hallways?  Those kids that no one ever told they were smart?  Those students that come into our classrooms thinking that they are not smart, have never been, and will never be.  Beaten down by lack of success in an overly rigid school system, having few academic successes and little curiosity left.  Those students need to hear the word “smart.”

Research tells us that we shouldn’t use the word “smart,” that students instead should be heralded for their work ethic, their creative problem-solving skills and their perseverance.  The evidence shows (simply stated) that if you tell a child repeatedly that they are smart they will take the easy way out, give up more easily and not like challenges. But those students that already have given up?  Those students need to hear it over and over when they do have successes so that they can start believing it.  So for those I make an exception.

I tell them they are smart when they conquer a math problem, when they raise their hand timidly at first but then more and more confidently.  I tell them that they can do it, that they too know things when they grow, when they share.  So that they can believe that they are worth something, that they are capable, that they are smart.  And I don’t regret it, no matter what the research says, because later on we can work on the creative problem-solving skills and never giving up, but for now; they need to believe they are smart.

being a teacher, believe, inspiration, self, students

Adding Up the Weight of Words

I used to think I was a good dancer. Not the “So You Think You Can Dance” kind but not horribly ungifted either. I could shake it without care, busting a move with the best of them, and carefree live my life. I used to think I could dance until I met my husband. Brandon is a natural, he moves, he shakes, he glides. Why he knows how to twirl around a dance floor I do not know, but next to him, I acquired two huge left feet.

At first, we laughed about how I was clumsy. Being tall, skinny, and with two large feet didn’t help me either. And yet, as we laughed and joked about it, I really did get worse at dancing. For every negative comment I started to believe a little more that perhaps, just perhaps, there was something to it. Perhaps I really was bad at dancing, perhaps those jokes and comments were truth and not just fun to be had. Now, I barely ever dance, mostly just around my house with my daughter, but I am no longer the first one on the floor and I definitely always looking around seeing if anyone notices just how uncoordinated I am.

I think of my students, of the little comments we make throughout our day. Of snappy lines other students make, often in jest, but oft repeated. I wonder how many of those lines, those comments, dig themselves in and burrow down deep until they latch themselves into their psyche rendering them useless at something. How often do they start out laughing along until they realize that it is just not that funny?

We must always carry a sense of humor about ourselves, but when does that humor become destructive rather than funny?

So those little words, those small actions, add up to more than we can ever know. And not just the negative ones, but the positive ones as well. How about laughing about how talented someone is rather than how inadequate? Perhaps if I had joked about how incredible of a dancer I was, I would believe it now. I know that words have power, but often I forget about the small words and how much power they gain when I add them up. It is time for me to give weight to the positive ones.

being a teacher, community, difference, hopes, self

We are Not Born Selfish

As I watch my daughter interact, I realize that we are not born selfish. Instead we become it as our lives turn into one long competition for more, bigger, better. This can be seen in school where many teachers suffer under constant business or stress, and if they are not suffering from it, they are a rarity. I used to be one of those teachers, too busy to even think some time, until I realized that by projecting this frantic persona, I was being selfish.

When you are constantly busy, or claiming to be, you shut yourself off to others. People realize that you will not be able to help, because you are too busy; you will not give them that precious time they may need, because you have too much to do. This is detrimental to furthering personal connections. When people stay out of your way because you are frantic, they often do not come back.

So when you return to school, make a conscious effort to turn off your busyness. Instead open yourself up to others. When someone approaches you for help or an extra hand, give it to them, even if it interferes with prep time. This small gesture of giving time fosters goodwill in your environment. When we actively help others, they notice and they in turn may help others as well. We all know that helping breeds helping, so why not live it? I know we are busy, all people are, but it is how we choose to deal with that busyness that makes the difference. So remember that doing something that may seem inconvenient to you may make a huge difference to someone else. Don’t be selfless but be less selfish.