I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the above lyrics, but yesterday they hit a chord with me. (No pun intended) I think most of us like praise. Some of you might even be in front of an audience on a daily basis. And somewhere in our upbringing, we were taught that if we didn’t get that round of applause, a basket of praise, a stack full of perfect grades, we weren’t good enough.
We were told to study hard and get perfect grades so we could get into that perfect college. We were told if we got into the perfect college we would get that perfect job. We were told that if we got that great job we would make great money. And if we practiced enough on our talents we might even get famous!
I didn’t get into teaching because I wanted to hear the “applause.” I certainly didn’t get into teaching to make money. And when was the last time you heard of a teacher becoming famous? I didn’t even get into teaching to be liked by my students. I did it for something more, something inside of me that said, “This is the ONLY thing that you will do that will make you feel this fulfilled.” I knew that when times were tough, I had chosen the right profession. Somewhere along the line I learned that grit would carry me through. I became a teacher because of the thrill of watching, coaching, and encouraging my students to grow as learners. To see a student have an “a-ha” moment is one of the greatest joys in the world. And if along the way, one parent or one student says, “Mrs R, you are the best.” than that is just a nice added bonus.
What I worry about today though is that we focus too much on the applause, the praise, the success. Our students are needy for praise. Rather than taking a risk, students will rush to our sides to confirm that they are doing something right before they give it a try themselves. They are terrified that they might work on something and get the wrong result. Yet, isn’t that when we learn most? When we work, work, work, and fall flat on our faces? We need to teach students the value of grit; sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than getting the answer right the first time.
Some students expect perfect grades, when some of them just don’t have the capability to get 6’s and 7’s. (A’s and B’s) My students who are just learning English often expect a 7, even when they are still struggling to read or write a complete sentence. A student who started with a 4 will sometimes be upset when on the next test they receive a 6, not a 7. Something inside these kids says, “If I don’t get the perfect grade, than I’m just not good enough.” What some of my 2nd language students are able to achieve is amazing. I certainly could not even attempt to write a five-paragraph essay in another language. So what if the essay doesn’t get a top grade. They need to celebrate what they can do. We need to teach our students the value of grit; sometimes it takes a while to see the results of hard work and practice.
So how do we get our students to see success in failure? I don’t want to seek out ways to make my students fall flat on their faces. I don’t want to crush my students’ spirits. I just want them to feel confident in taking risks, solving their own problems, and showing me their mistakes. I want students to revel in their mistake and find joy in the accomplishment of correcting that mistake.
My wish for tomorrow….
I want my students to sit in a silent room, by themselves, looking at their semester grades and have pride in their results. Even though their grade report isn’t the best grade report in the class, I want them to shout, “WOW! Have I come a long way since the beginning of the year!” I want that achievement of a 4 or a5, to really feel more like a 7. I want them to hear that APPLAUSE inside of themselves. And I want them to smile, teeth showing, giggling and about to burst, because they are so proud of their achievements.