I knew a high school sophomore who struggled with Geometry which was so odd because she did incredibly well in Algebra. She would constantly ask questions because she just was not getting the concept of the equations or the rationale why the formula was set up that way. During class the sophomore raised her hand and said she didn’t get it. “That’s because you’re stupid,” said the teacher.
Well, the room erupted with laughter as the young lady melted in her chair. She was stricken to the core. Stricken, paralyzed with disgrace. She was now labeled in the sophomore class of 95 as “stupid”.
This badge of smartass remarks affected this young woman as she moved on through her education. She struggled and struggled. Her low self-esteem and her mantra of “she’ll never be good enough” because she was “stupid” truly affected what she did in life. She went into computer science. Concepts were difficult to grasp. She got a job in Chicago as a computer programmer and the light just went on. She finally got it working with peers.
A drive so fierce to get to a better station in life consumed her because education was THE ONLY way to do better. That drive to prove to her sophomore geometry teacher led her to several positions as a computer programmer, wife, mother, community activist, school board member and president of the board.
She was me. I despised that teacher and vowed to lift students and others up. It could’ve gone so wrong. He was a jack wagon.
Some would say, and I’ve seen it, that negative reinforcement drives people. Maybe. But a very wise junior high principal once told me when you capture the heart of a student they don’t want to disappoint you which drives them to do better. The power of positive reinforcement is a key to unlocking exceptional talent in students.
I’ve told this story a few times to a room full (100 plus) new teachers and you could’ve heard a pin drop. My friends had tears in their eyes as they listened to this story. We’ve all been there, especially when no one would stand up for you.
I believe that we’ve changed over the years. Just be careful of what you say. You have a profound affect on others.