A quiet hand raised across the room (Yes, I almost missed it — sometimes this one hides among the shadows of their peers — not something a teacher wants to admit). I get up, move a chair across the room and am greeted by a look of panic. He apologizes for asking me to get up. He asks whether his work meets my expectations. Clearly, the child has been working diligently most of the class period and I can see in his eyes a need for positive reinforcement. I think to myself, I wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as he did in today’s classroom with the sky high expectations.
I have come across this scenario time and time again, or something very similar.
Can anyone guess what I see?
Yes, this child is afraid or has some anxiety of not being perfect. High achieving students will often apologize when needing help because of a precedent that has been set; a precedence of spotless, perfection every time in every learning situation.
When did the impossible become an unprecedented norm for children?
How will this mindset affect their future?
How can classroom teachers combat it?
As you may know or may not know, I began my teaching career blind (not literally) believing the final end product was the end all. As I became a parent, I quickly learned my children were not perfect and failed often at tasks, but I wanted a way to support them. Becoming a parent changed my entire philosophy on teaching children. I appreciate a high test score (so does my district), but I fell in love with developing the journey of learning.
I believe parents an society puts a lot of pressure on children to be perfect or get straight A’s. But then again, we are not going to be perfect all the time and blunder on our journey (often). We are imperfect, defined as faulty or incomplete, and that is OK.
I see imperfect everyday in the eyes of my children.
I mentor it.
I hand tissues to it.
I am a character witness to it.
It’s time to not only talk about it — it’s time to address the rising problem. I have a passion for students meeting their expectation and Outworking Your Talent (as my board reads). However, I feel an over emphasis of academic success by teachers, parents, and peers is unhealthy for any child. It is beginning to affect their well being and diminish their social and emotional health.
Students would often rather have teachers not utilize technology and harness its power for an authentic learning task when it involves a chance they may not get that ‘A’. I do not believe students do not want to be challenged; often I think they are engaged with the tools. As a teacher, I love finding unique ways to assess the standards.
However, the roadblock of fear and anxiety students put up of not getting an ‘A’ is one we can no longer afford. At that point, the learning opportunity is diminished.
The engagement and fun are released — a new ulterior motive is established — attaining the prominent letter A, which never seemed like that big of an accomplishment in Nathaniel Hawthornes’ Scarlett Letter (English teacher joke).
We can no longer allow the ‘A’ to consume our learning . We must meet the challenge head first. Here are a few conversation pieces that have helped me tackle the imperfect child trying to be perfect.
- REASSURANCE: Write a note sharing how proud of the child you are because of their work ethic or perseverance–not a letter grade. Be constant with you reassurance. Let the students know you care for them.
- SUPPORT: A teacher’s words, actions, and willingness to believe in one’s ability can change the trajectory of a child. Model making mistakes.
- PEP TALK: Never anticipate students will react the manner you expect them too; remember, they are 11-12 years old. Coach them emotionally to take a lower than expected if their grade was not of the highest mark.
- LEARNING OVER GRADES: Share with your students your philosophy.
- NEW FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS: Take a risk and assess students with new educational technology tools to meet the needs of each person in the classroom. I tell students we cannot answer multiple choice question, short response, or essay for everything in life. Many professional tasks are project-based, and I am preparing them for those fields (and assessing with technology can be a lot of fun).
- RESPECT THE JOURNEY: School gets harder every year and the stakes are even higher. As a teacher, I often capture the moments of all students with photos and video because that is where learning occurs — not showing off the final ‘A’ product — but during the journey to get to that final product.
Let me explain more.
There is no magical moment better than seeing students learn to persevere through challenges and take critical feedback to improve. Every parent sends their best to school like the young man mentioned at the beginning of this post, but it is up to teachers to cultivate that child’s ability, not his letter grade, while in our care. If we want students to excel in a 21st century world (which can be brutal), we must focus on each child’s journey and what authentic learning opportunities are taking place.
If we focus on supporting each child’s journey then our final products will fix itself.