Finding Self Esteem in Children
By Bill Ferguson
In my early years as a teacher I viewed children mainly as my teachers did when I went to school. They were to sit in rows, listen attentively, work hard and be polite. It worked to some degree. After the first couple of years I noticed a couple of things. The first was that it was easier to teach those children who desired to learn no matter what level they were at in their learning. Weak or strong students who wanted to learn made learning and teaching fun. I asked myself what was it that made those weak students so motivated to learn. As I watched and listened some of it was their home environment and in some it was inquisitiveness. I looked at those who did not desire to learn. Again some had a poor home environment, but mostly it was the topics they were being taught and the way it was done. It held no interest to them. Many liked to work with their hands and build things. These fuelled their imaginations. There was also a lack of self-esteem that was involved with these students when it came to classroom work.
The second was that my teaching style and expectations were out of line with what was happening in the rest of the student’s lives. It was my realization that student conversations held far more interest for them than what I had to teach them. I also saw that their discussions were about educational things that challenged their imagination. This made for amazing discussions that went further than anything I could have taught them. They reached conclusions and saw cause and effect for more efficiently than if I had them draw it out of a story. These discussions also created a personal context between the students and me leading to greater trust. It allowed me to guide them rather than push them into places they did not want to go but would on their own.
While I reached the same conclusions as Dr. Sugata Mitra and his experiments with SOLE, Self-Organized Learning Environments, it took his work to send it home to me. The students need to come first and follow their interests. As a teacher it is my duty to make sure the curriculum is taught. It is also my duty to educate students in higher level thinking skills. In order to do both I had to come up with a way to do both because the traditional way did not work.
As a teacher I realized that lack of self-esteem was the number one issue in building the educational career of everyone in my class. Student lack of self-esteem is far more prevalent than one would realize. It doesn’t matter the student, self-esteem is the issue. Good students have self-esteem issues that rely on whether they do well or not on assignments or tests. There are social issues. Weak students know they cannot compete and feel disillusioned. Their learning disabilities have put them behind their classmates and they feel they can never catch up.
This lack of self-esteem comes from a number of sources both inside and outside the classroom. As adults while we think we are doing our best to raise our children the fact of the matter is that we often make poor word and sentence choices that are interpreted differently by children than we intend. We often cut off their enthusiasm; sometimes inadvertently as it crops up at inopportune times and often advertently because we are doing something that could be disturbed but choose to place it first over the child’s needs..
How to build self-esteem became the question that needed to be answered. I turned to books and the internet but the suggestions were too many and with no agreement. The one thing I have discovered is that as adults we have to give up the notion of being in control. We are only in control because someone allows us to be in control or in charge. The fact is when we enforce our control we are undermining the children’s efforts to being taken seriously in the world. Control is about dominance not about equal and fair treatment. When we let go of control and accept everyone’s ideas as being worthy of discussion it is a win-win situation. Children gain trust and feel valued. Adults look good in kid’s eyes. This works in school as well. Yes there are times when as an adult we have to pull rank but we also need to explain why we did it so they understand that aspect of it.
What does this all mean? As adults we are doing a poor job of communicating with our children. Each and every one of us sends mixed messages through the words we choose and the sentences we say. Children need far more positive than in order to grow and lead fulfilling lives. We need to become the people we think we are instead of the people we are. Stay positive and your kids will prosper.