A Little Praise Goes a Long Way

In school, I was labeled The Nerd or Outcast.  Teachers called on me because they knew I would know the answer.  They also paired me up with the students who needed a lot of support.  I hated that.  I hated being known as the teachers’ pet or the go-to guy for the teacher.  I just wanted to be me, but I wasn’t allowed the opportunity to do so because of how the teachers pigeonholed me.  As a teacher, I try hard not to do that.  I look for the best in every student and try to help them bring out the other parts that don’t shine as brightly.  I call on the students who aren’t raising their hand.  I pair up students randomly.  I don’t want to judge my students based on any one characteristic.

However, every once in awhile I get stuck in a rut and tend to view kids through one lense.  Since the beginning of Academic Orientation at my school, which began on Monday, I was only able to see one side of one particular student.  He was the rambunctious one filled with high energy.  He was the student distracting his peers and not focusing on the task at hand.  Now, he was doing other things as well, but all I could see were those attention deficit qualities.  I focused on the negative rather than looking for any positives.  So, for the past two days, I saw a wild child.

Today started the same for me.  I saw this one student distracting his peers, rocking back so far in his chair that he almost tipped over, and shouting out without raising a hand.  I was growing frustrated with him.  Why was he misbehaving so much?  The problem was, it wasn’t him.  It was me.  I was looking at everything he did in one way while ignoring all the other perspectives.  That needed to change or else I would struggle to connect with this student.

Then it happened.  I happened to notice that he was working with a another student to organize the messed up carpet squares in our reading nook area.  I didn’t ask him to do it and he didn’t tell me that he was doing it.  He was just doing it because that’s what kind and compassionate students do.  Luckily, I saw this and reacted appropriately.  I walked over to the two students and praised them immensely for helping out.  I explained to them how anxious I am about the carpet squares being out of whack on a daily basis.  I then gave them each an edible treat to enjoy while reading silently during Reader’s Workshop.  The one student I’ve been having trouble connecting with smiled and seemed to really appreciate the praise.  For the rest of the academic day, I only saw all the great things he was doing.  He was a role model for his peers and offered to help any time it was needed.  He worked diligently throughout the other classes.  He seemed to be a completely different student.  Or was he?  Perhaps I had only seen him negatively because that was the only way I chose to view him.  He was probably always helping out and I just never noticed.

Wow, what an awakening.  Sometimes we need a jolt like this to help us change our perspective and line of thinking.  There are no bad students, there are just poor choices.  Sometimes, as teachers, we get stuck only seeing the bad choices students make despite all the good they may be doing.  We need to stop and reassess the way we interact and see our students from time to time.  Pigeonholing a student is never the way to go.  We need to help our students grow and develop in every way possible.  Only seeing one side of a tree prevents you from noticing all the beautiful woodpecker holes, squirrel nests, and sunsets.  Today’s experience made me realize the importance of always paying attention and praising those other things our students are doing when they think no one’s watching.


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