Supporting Teachers to Enrich the Lives of Children
In my workshops for educators I describe strategies for nurturing self-discipline, self-dignity, learning, motivation, and resilience in students. At the beginning of these workshops I emphasize a point that may seem obvious but deserves highlighting, namely, that the daily words and actions of teachers can have a lifelong impact on students. Educators may not even be aware of the depth of this impact unless they reflect upon their own experiences as students and the memories they still carry of their teachers years later.
In the late 1980s, while gathering material for my book The Self-Esteem Teacher, I requested that participants in many of my seminars complete an anonymous questionnaire. The first question asked responders to describe one of the best moments they ever had in school as students, a moment that involved something a teacher said or did that boosted their self-esteem and motivation. The second question asked them to recall one of their worst experiences with a teacher that lessened their sense of self-worth. In reviewing approximately 1,500 completed questionnaires I was impressed by the high number of memories, both positive and negative, that involved only a few seconds of a teacher's time. These responses prompted me to write about "the importance of the seemingly small gestures."
In addition to administering the questionnaire, I encouraged audience members to share these memories during the workshop. Many were very willing to do so. The range and intensity of feelings triggered by these memories were evident immediately, both in the person recounting the story and in those listening. Laughter, groans, tears, sighs of disbelief, and applause spontaneously filled the room. These memories evoked strong emotions even if they represented an incident from 50 years ago. Their staying power was noteworthy.
Some participants told me that they were surprised by their strong reaction to school memories from the distant past. One woman displayed tears and anger as she recalled a teacher humiliating her 40 years earlier when she was only six years old; in contrast, tears of joy dotted a man's face as he recounted a particularly poignant story of a teacher who demonstrated great compassion 45 years earlier when the man's mother was dying of cancer. It was little wonder that in The Self-Esteem Teacher I labeled these experiences as "indelible memories of school."
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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