With children and youth headed back to school, I have two pieces of seemingly contradictory advice for parents and teachers. I believe with Emerson that “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
First, when you expect excellence from your children, you are very likely to get it. This goes for academic accomplishments as well as good behavior. On the other hand, when you expect substandard workmanship or conduct, you are very likely to get that.
When I was a freshman in high school, a slightly older friend told my English teacher I was really excited to have made the special honor roll that six weeks. Her response was, “She should make it every time.”
That teacher, Miss Alice Noone, had Marion County roots, so some of my readers may remember her. She was one of the best teachers I ever had, because I knew that for Miss Noone, only my best was good enough.
I once read an account of a teacher who gave her class quite challenging assignments. Throughout the school year they responded brilliantly. When her principal commended her on the quality of work her pupils were doing, she told him she didn’t think it was particularly remarkable for such gifted students.
“Gifted?” he questioned.
“Why yes,” the teacher replied. “On the class list you gave me at the beginning of the year, every student in there had an IQ of at least 125.”
“Those numbers were not IQ scores,” the principal informed her. “They were locker numbers.”
Believing her students to be a special gifted class and expecting the best from them, she inspired the students to give her their best. Parents and teachers would do well to remember that little story and go and do likewise.
As a first-year teacher, I observed the flip side of that story. One of my students had a marked tendency to be a troublemaker. The principal had an equally marked tendency to blame that student for any bit of mischief or vandalism that came up with no effort to find evidence. In that situation, I’ll admit that I do not know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I have wondered what would have happened if Mr. Kerr had expected good behavior from Clarence. Would Clarence have risen to the challenge?
My other piece of advice is to encourage students when they do not quite measure up. Recognize that one failure in workmanship does not make the student a failure. In my teaching career, I saw some students who I felt were putting forth little or no effort, because they thought the task was beyond them anyway. They would rather have their peers view them as lazy than stupid. Perhaps a low scoring test paper returned with a few words of encouragement could give that student some confidence. I confess that as a teacher I was probably not as good at that kind of encouragement as I should have been.
I have a tendency to view myself as a failure in many areas such as mathematics, music, and athletics. When I came home from school bemoaning a particularly embarrassing performance at something, my mother usually said something with which I still encourage myself 60-odd years later, “Just do the best you can, and angels can do no better.”