Telling it Like it Is: The Secret to Success in the Classroom?

Being a very positive person, I’ve struggled at times, providing negative information or bad news.  It has always been a challenge for me because I didn’t want to upset others.  In college, I stayed with a girl much longer than I should have because I didn’t want to break up with her.  I was worried about upsetting her.  I like to keep things happy and positive.  I don’t like to make people sad.  Sometimes this meant hiding the truth or telling little white lies.  While I wasn’t proud of these choices, I was more worried about making someone angry or mad.  Only until recently have I realized that I need to be honest.  Telling people how I really feel is quite freeing.  While it does sometimes make people upset, it’s better than pretending that everything is okay.

In the classroom, I’ve tried to incorporate this honesty strategy when working with my students.  While I don’t want to negatively impact their self-esteem, I also don’t want them to think that they are awesome at everything.  In this age of “here’s your trophy for just showing up,” students need to realize that they have work to do.  They are not perfect and achieving their goals comes at a cost.  So, when a student turns in a piece of writing that does not meet the graded objectives, I will first find one positive thing to say before getting to all the areas in need of improvement and then I will wrap up with a positive comment.  This way I’m giving them the truth in a compassionate manner.  This method usually works and motivates the students to revise their piece and thus, grow as a writer.

The honest approach to individual students also works quite well when dealing with social issues within the class community.  Following Wednesday’s nitpicky issues amongst the students, I talked to the boys yesterday during our Team Time block.  I was very direct with them.  I said, “While many of you have been putting forth great effort and growing as students and members of our community, a few of you have not.  Some of you have been arguing about very petty issues.  Instead of dealing with those issues, you are letting them infringe upon how you act in the classroom.  You need to tell people how you feel.  Remember to use I-Statements.  I feel frustrated when you do this, please stop.  If you don’t use your words to communicate how you feel, the anger and frustration will build up inside of you and turn to anxiety.  When that happens, your brain releases the chemical cortisol which prevents the brain from properly functioning.  It reverts back to its innate reactionary state of fight or flight.  Thus, you will not learn or be able to focus on what is going on in the class.  So, if you talk about how you feel and don’t keep your emotions inside, you will be able to learn and grow in the sixth grade this year.”  This seemed to help because the rest of the day went smoothly.  The boys coexisted effectively and talked to each other about their feelings and emotions.  It was quite amazing.

By not camouflaging the problems in the classroom, the students are able to understand what the issues are and how to solve them.  If I had ignored this lack of peer communication that took place in class on Wednesday, would Thursday have gone as well?  Perhaps, but there’s a good chance that it would not have gone as well.  When the students don’t know what the expectation is or how to solve their own problems, they struggle to move beyond what is in front of them.  By telling the students, honestly, what the problems are and how to fix them, they are able to tangibly see what is wrong and fix it.  In this world of political correctness, we sometimes feel as though we need to tiptoe around social issues because we might upset or offend someone.  That doesn’t work.  We can’t pretend everything’s okay when it’s not.  Allowing students to see their mistakes and errors allows them to figure out how to correct them next time so that history doesn’t repeat itself.  As teachers, we can’t hide the truth.  We need to tell it like it is.  If a student is being a bully, we need to call him out on it, privately of course.  If our students are making poor choices, we need to address the class and tell them what we see so that they can rectify the situation.  We can’t be afraid of upsetting the students or the students will never learn.  It’s not us vs. them.  It’s us as one.  We need to function as one unit.  And that’s the secret to success in the classroom.  Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone.