Teacher Secrets –Bonafide Encouragement


For an educator, teaching a new skill or introducing new information to a student requires many elements. Part, art and part science, good teaching requires the pedagogue’s passion for and understanding of the subject. Patience helps, as does having a briefcase full of approaches to meet various learning styles. Sometimes the 4.0 college math major enters a classroom with only one approach to teaching, say, integrals, because s/he understood the concept quickly. If  the teacher repeats the lesson exactly the same way a second day, yet several students don’t grasp it, frustration accelerates on both sides. Consider a teaching example from the pool:

In July 2010, Miss Sarah, one of Brent’s former students Austyn Grace  knew, agreeed to work with AG  for five swimming sessions. Sarah had previously given private lessons in her folks’ backyard swimming pool, and AG seemed interested in learning. Still, Sarah typically instructed four year olds. Parents and teacher agreed on a few basics:  AG would gain confidence in the water, learn to put her face in the water and, perhaps, understand  “ice cream scoops,” Sarah’s description of a dog paddle stroke.

Later that summer, during a family vacation, AG not only worked with her Daddy in the pool, but she also plunged into the ocean water at Hilton Head. Miss Sarah had encouraged, but not pushed, her novice swimmer. Brent and Becky took the opportunity to encourage AG to put her face under water, both in a friend’s pool and also in the bathtub! Soon AG swam underwater most of the time. When her head bobbed above the water, both her parents would say, “Ice cream scoops, ice cream scoops,” reinforcing Sarah’s teaching and giving their three year old increasing confidence.

Whichever side of the desk you find yourself on, encouragement is crucial to the instructor’s giving information and training as well as to the student’s learning skills and knowledge. The teacher gains confidence and satisfaction when the student makes genuine progress, and any student recognizes when s/he has done something truly laudable.  But to encourage the student with steady praise, the progress must have substance.

Sadly, somewhere in the 60s, I think, we educators and parents all got sidetracked from bonafide encouragement and fell into the self-esteem hole. Tossing out baseless kudos didn’t fool kids. The educational world handed out boatloads of bogus certificates, paper awards encouraging every turn of the hand, whether of note or not.  When teachers sometimes entered the teachers’ lounge and asked what award they could give a student who had not shown effort or progress, I used to ask, “Why do you need an award?” The response? “Everybody has to get an award before the end of the semester.” Pleeeeaaaasse! Both teacher and student will quickly recognize that such encouragements, as phony as a three-dollar bill, will lie in a drawer gathering dust.

On a happier note, a few more lessons with an encouraging Miss Sarah in 2011, gave Austyn Grace the ability and confidence to ice cream scoop her way across the pool this past summer.

Did Brent and Becky express their thanks to Sarah? Of course. And did we family members tell AG, “Good job, big girl”? Yes we did, but swimming the width of a pool before your fourth birthday demonstrated a genuine skill.

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