My students are complex, to say the least. Every now and then I am caught off guard by how complex they really are in terms of lived experiences and psychology. Yesterday I had a moment where my spirit said to me, “ease off, and for clarification, ease way off.”
As I watched a student struggle during a presentation, I knew that easing off, so to speak, in an effort to make the moment less stressful could make or break the student. I’ve seen presentation struggles many times before, but yesterday something said to me, “don’t lead with friendly teacher today; rather, today you should lead with friend who teaches.”
That one is always a hard call for me. I want my students to be successful, so I know that a high standard is important. In general, I believe that people try to live up to what is expected of them. I can’t count the amount of times that students have reported to me that they never knew they could do something until I required it in class. That class requirement actually caused them to learn something important on a very personal level; something about who they are and what they are capable of doing.
On the other hand, I know that a high standard also carries with it a certain amount of performance anxiety, making circumstances more stressful for individuals. As I have watched my students perform in previous semesters, I have seen some students who flourished while under pressure and consequently enjoyed the rewards of success, some who could have cared less and did not appear to have learned much from the experience, and then I have seen some who succumbed to the pressure of the day, folded into themselves, and probably walked away with less self-esteem than before the assignment.
I know that social science research now verifies that mastery of skill is something that promotes healthy self-esteem, rather than the other way around. But with a generation of people who were likely praised for minimal efforts because of some notion that self-esteem was the driving force behind mastery, where is the line?
It also dawns on me that not all of my students had parents who praised every little effort that they made during childhood. Unfortunately, some of my students had parents who did the opposite.
Today I watched a student start her presentation well. Then I literally watched self-doubt creep into her brain shortly after she began and slowly it destroyed her presentation as well as her immediate feelings about herself in the process. I also happen to be privy to the fact that she grew up in a tumultuous household with a mother who suffered from mental health issues; issues for which medication was repeatedly refused. I know that this young woman was removed from her home by the State on numerous occasions and that she was pummeled both mentally and physically during childhood by the chaotic nature of her mother’s illness. It also dawns on me that using the phrase “during childhood” expresses something of past tense. Nineteen, in my opinion, is still childhood.
I don’t know what the answer is to this issue or to issues much like this one. Part of me believes that in the big scheme of things I should simply try to be the light; that’s always the best choice, right? The problem is that I am not sure that there is only one light in this circumstance. If one clear light existed in terms of the choices, I would not spend so much of my time worried about outcomes for various individuals.
I’ll keep searching.
I need to get back to my high wire act; I have another class coming in soon.