I had a couple of students in class after school today trying to get caught up on some missing work. The students were both practicing balancing chemical equations. At some point the two of them began to have some fun with it and turned the session into a friendly competition to see who could balance their equation the fastest. It was tutorials the way it should be; students learning and having fun in a safe environment. At some point I made a comment about what good kids they were – and then I got the punch in the gut.
One student said, “Mr. Strickland, I like it when you say we are good kids.” I laughed and responded, “Well, you are – doesn’t anyone else tell you that?”
She said, “No. Not really.” I turned to the other student, “What about you?”
He said, “No. My Grandma tells me I’m a bad kid all the time.”
I thought about what they said all the way home. I’m not ashamed to say that when I got home I shed a few tears over what happened. Is it too much to ask that adults let kids know they care about them? All any person wants – at any age – is to feel wanted, and needed, and loved.
We all want our students to be critical thinkers that are inquisitive, self directed learners. We expect them to give 100% effort toward their studies and perform well on standardized tests. How can they possibly do that if they don’t feel valued as a person?
I don’t coddle my students. If I think it’s necessary I will chew a kids rear. I also think that we get more from someone with positive praise than positive punishment. You can bet I try to encourage and praise the behaviors I like more than I punish the ones I don’t like. Operant conditioning works as well on students as it does on dogs and killer whales.
Even without any knowledge of Skinner and his theories, it isn’t that hard to realize that students need someone in their lives that tells them they are valuable and special.
Today reminded me that not all of our students receive what they need outside of school. While we are pushing for high academic achievement, don’t forget to value the person. You may be the only positive voice they hear that day – and that’s more important than the result on any standardized test.