Tough love works in developing students
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It was a look I've seen many times, in varying degrees. I've heard it described by teachers I know. The look of "How could you?" The look of "You are really going to go through with it?" It is a mixture of incredulity, anxiety, panic, hurt and a smidge of hope. Hope that what is happening isn't really happening.
The student wasn't facing so much. A week of summer school that was over by noon each day. Plenty of time to still go to the beach or hang out downtown. Still, it was time he did not want to serve. Especially for two points. Yep, two lousy points.
All he had to do was get a 70 or better on his journal assignments. I told them on Day 1 that if they didn't complete at least 70 percent of their journal assignments they were going to have to come to summer session for one week and write journal assignments and help pack up the classroom.
As I went to record the grades, I thought about how easy it would be to just give him the two points he needed to pass. He had passed every other subject and assignment. Some with flying colors and some by the skin of his teeth. So why not just let him off the hook?
That look is why. He was leaving the cozy nest of middle school and entering the decidedly bleaker landscape of high school. He was going to a place where the teachers have no sympathy for that look. They are just following the same task that every teacher has, which is to prepare her students for the real world by helping them progress through the challenges they are expected to master in their pursuit of what our society considers an education.
Sometimes those lessons are harsh, for the child and the adult. Ultimately, we adults have to think about what kind of person we are trying to help our children to become.
Being willing to work hard to reach your goal is very important. Not having that will is like trying to inflate a balloon without air. Hand in hand with the will to succeed is the strength to accept responsibility for your actions. Good or bad, praise or criticism.
We don't do our children any favors by shielding them from the disappointments in life. We don't do them any favors by saving them from the consequences of their mistakes and letting them off the hook.
At each stage of development, we, as adult guides in the lives of the children to whom we are connected, have a duty to let them fall and a responsibility to catch them before they completely crash. We are their safety net and their ladder. The higher up they go, the more intricate the moves they can perform. The higher they climb, the braver and more daring they have to be. The higher up they climb, the farther they can possibly fall.
We have to be willing to let them fall. We have to be willing to watch them be hurt and frustrated and scared and anxious and disappointed if we want to see them proud and joyful and successful. Young people need to know they can make mistakes and recover. They can fail and redeem themselves.
In addition, we have to impress upon our youth the necessity of first setting goals for themselves and having a plan, a roadmap, for reaching their goals. We have to teach them the skills they will need in real life situations. Skills like accountability and professionalism. We have to encourage their ambition.
I've heard horror stories of job applicants who, on paper, are fully qualified to fill a vacant position but lack the intangibles that make a good employee: understanding that you can't just show up when you want, knowing that you are expected to meet deadlines and fulfill the parameters you were given. All those job skills that you learn as you grow up when you have teachers who expect you to keep at something until you get it right; who expect you to turn in your best organized, neatest work; who will not let you slide with shallow analysis and faulty logic. Basically, those who know how far to let their students fall and are willing, when necessary, to watch it happen.
- Mariel Blake writes a weekly column for The Daily News.