I remember it vividly. The year I was my school’s Teacher of the Year, I went to the District TOTY interview. Near the end, a nice, sweet elementary teacher asked her scripted question: “What do you do to build self-esteem in your classroom?” I answered something along the lines of how I teach seniors who are about to hit the real world, and I think it’s more important to get them ready for that than to build their self-esteem. So I don’t do anything other than teach them, believing that learning by itself built self-esteem. A friend of mine on the committee almost choked with her amusement while most of the committee was taken aback. I still suspect that didn’t help me win District Teacher of the Year. Oh well. Que sera sera.
Here’s a news story from today’s news. My favorite part:
A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.
“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”
Dweck’s studies, embraced in Montgomery schools and elsewhere, have found that praising children for intelligence — “You’re so clever!” — also backfires. In study after study, children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.
But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.
Maybe I’m not so bad after all.