This is the fourth and last in a series of posts focusing on concrete ways teachers and mentors can help shape the future through their students. In case you missed the earlier parts, here are links to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but one of the earliest character lessons that I remember receiving is talking about the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” And while this is a wonderful rule to live by and our world would be a much happier, healthier, and more peaceful place if more people would follow this one dictate, the entire thing is predicated on the idea that a person would treat themselves well–that he or she values themselves.
Now many people would say that today’s young people–today’s children, today’s young adults–place entirely too much value on themselves. They are too entitled. They want life too easy. And entitlement and unwillingness to work hard are definitely problems, as is the false pride that gets instilled in our children by the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality.
But these things are not real value. These things make people believe that they deserve only the good things, so really what is the joy in the good things. They make people believe that everything should come easy, so what is the value of hard work (and why should something that is hard even be attempted or praised). They make people believe that everyone is equally capable of all things, and therefore we could all be a football star or brilliant computer programer or fighter pilot.
Let me let you in on something…
I was never going to be a football star. Running and catching a ball at the same time takes more coordination than I possess.
I was never going to be a brilliant computer programer. This blog alone often challenges my computer savvy.
I was never going to be a fighter pilot. My eyesight is somewhere between really poor and blind-as-a-bat.
I am a very capable baker. I can make everything from homemade bread to pie crust to lemon curd for my scrumptious cheesecake all from scratch.
I am quite a good singer. Maybe not Beyoncé, but more than good enough to bring people joy in church and I have sung a lead in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.
I am a great teacher. My students leave my classroom more knowledgeable, more capable, and more confident than when they came in.
And if everyone is equally good at all things, then the talent I have been given and the hard work that I have dedicated to these skills mean nothing. And if everything is equally valuable, then none of these skills and talents have any value.
So let’s talk about how to improve out students’ sense of self-worth without just instilling a false sense of their own value. Here are four things that you can start today that reinforce positive self-worth without a false sense of pride.
Praise often, but praise for worthwhile things.
Don’t withhold your praise. It is important for kids (and all of us) to know that what we do is good. By praising for the good things that students do, students are reminded on a regular basis that their actions, thoughts, and work is worthwhile and valuable. What you praise students for can be small (in some ways praise for small things is extra special because it means that you think your students are worth paying careful attention to), but make sure that what you say is genuine. Kids are adept at spotting a fake. Don’t tell a student that their answer was great if it wasn’t or that their behavior improved if it didn’t.
Do not allow students to talk in negative or derogatory ways about themselves.
It is well-known and understood that allowing students to talk in negative ways about each other is harmful. It can cause hurt feelings and even lead to bullying. It is equally important though to not allow student to talk in negative ways about themselves. Saying things repeatedly often leads to students believing them even if they did not start out that way. This applies to both positive and negative comments. By encouraging students to talk positively (instead of negatively) you are encouraging them to believe positively.
Get to know your students and notice when they are not themselves.
Not only does this give you insight into how your class will run on any given day, but recognizing changes in your students and addressing these changes (usually privately or off to the side) also shows your students that they are worth paying attention to. If adults and others that a child respects believe he or she has value (and act upon that value), then it is much harder for that child to believe that that he or she isn’t of value.
Don’t value certain skills above others just because society places more value on some skills over others.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of placing more value on socially popular skills–those of the football team or the show choir are seen as “better” than those of the chess club or Model UN. Consider:
- a large portion of the community often turns out for the Friday night football game
- a certain hit tv series portrays the glamour of song and dance performance
- the chess club can count their spectators on one hand (and those there usually hold the title of “mom”)
- when someone says they are in Model UN they often have to explain what exactly Model UN is
- when was the last time you had recruiters coming to your math classes or heard someone referred to as “All State” in English?
To help combat this, try several things. Make sure you pay attention to students’ accomplishments equally. If you attend extra curricular events, try to attend a variety of them (it doesn’t have to be all of them, just make it plain that you don’t only care about one thing). Be as aware and as interested the JV girls’ golf team’s meets as those of the varsity wrestling team. Discuss the value of academic scholarships as well as athletic ones. Just plain asking how a meet or game or performance went often means a lot to students. And when a student doesn’t have to explain that forensics is not a club having anything to do with dead bodies, you will make more than kid’s day.
As a final note…
It is important to also instill in our students that someone’s talents and skills are not the only ways people are valuable. Our worth is not based solely on our talents and what we contribute to society–we are valuable as humans beyond that. If this weren’t the case then anyone in a nursing home or who is mentally challenged or physically handicapped would be worthless. And while this topic is a much longer post in and of itself, remember that referring to and acting on the basic human dignity of all humans helps instill this in our own and others’ minds and behaviors.
Have a great day, and…
This Week’s Featured Product
Looking for ways to get your students talking about situations they face in real life? Here are 26 no prep discussion prompts that address real-world situations and start discussions on morality, right and wrong, responsibility, and social and peer pressure. For more details or to download this product, click here!
This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher: How do you encourage your students’ feelings of positive self-worth? Who is a student that you could help more? How can you help them?
For the student: What is one way in which you are valuable? Explain.
A Recipe from My Kitchen
Freezing Berries for the Months to Come
- fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.) or cherries
- Hint: If you don’t grow them yourself, you can often buy berries in bulk at your local farmers’ market or farm stand. U-pick locations are another great place to buy these fruits in-season. Not only are these berries so much more delicious than ones purchased in your local super market, but you are also directly supporting your local small farmers.
- baking sheets or other freezer-safe trays
- These must fit flat in your freezer.
- wax (or parchment) paper
- freezer cartons or freezer bags
- Harvest or purchase berries at the peak of freshness.
- As soon as possible, wash all berries carefully. Remove any bad spots, hulls, pits, leaves, stems, etc. Gently shake or pat excess water from berries. They don’t have to be completely dry, but get as much water off as possible.
- If you are processing strawberries (not other fruit) and so desire, you can cut berries into pieces.
- I do this with my strawberries because they lay flatter and I prefer them cut when I pull them out of the freezer.
- Line baking sheets with wax paper. Get your paper as close to the edges of the sheets as possible.
- Carefully spread fruit in a single layer on the baking sheets. Do not let fruit make any more than a single layer or spill off of the edges of the paper.
- As blackberries and raspberries are extremely delicate, spread these out so that the individual pieces do not touch before they freeze.
- Place sheets of fruit carefully in the freezer and freeze until the fruit is frozen solid. This may take several hours or even overnight. Do not rush this.
- Once fruit is frozen, remove sheets from the freezer one at a time. Carefully grab the edges of the wax paper and lift. The fruit should pop free with each piece individually frozen.
- If you are having issues, loosen the fruit by gently running a spatula along the tray and knocking the fruit free.
- Lift the paper and pour fruit into freezer cartons or bags.
- When each bag/carton is full, label and date it and place it in back the freezer.
- Enjoy summer berries all winter long!
NOTE: Blueberries (and only blueberries) are even easier than this to freeze as they do not need to be frozen on trays first. After step two place clean fruit directly into freezer bags–bags work better than cartons for these berries. Once they are frozen and you are ready to use them, you can hit the bag against a hard surface like the counter and the berries will break apart and be ready for use.