These Back to School days have got me all nostalgic for my teaching days. I loved going back to school as a teacher and a student.
As a 6th grade teacher for most of my career, I found that I spent more time counseling, giving advice and offering suggestions to students about how to manage relationships, navigate their social lives and family relationships more than teaching pre-algebra.
I discovered that kids will and want to learn – when they can – when they are not weighed down with the stress of the aforementioned situations and relationships. So, if I could help them find solutions and offer some suggestions on how to wade the minefields of their relationships they could more easily focus on the schoolwork.
It was that experience that motivated me to write a book a couple of years ago, Raising Adults.
I have always joked that I was raised by wolves and didn’t have much guidance and parenting. I joked, but it was true. I observed and learned as I went along. It would have been so much easier if an adult would have taught me about manners, proper respect, normal relationship boundaries and all those basic things that we learn from living with healthy parents and adults. However, I found that a lot of kids, like myself, didn’t have that privilege. So, it was my joy as a teacher to share what I learned along the way with my students.
As a middle and high school student myself, when things began to get competitive and real and the pressure to succeed began to weigh on me, I had the false belief that some people were just smart or had a personality that people liked and I was not blessed with those attributes. I gave up on myself. I didn’t try. I didn’t have anyone to tell me that social skills can be learned and practiced. I quit the flute, clarinet, volleyball, and basketball when it became a challenge and I had to work hard. I threw my hands up when I didn’t understand chemistry immediately. There was no one there to teach me study skills. There was no one to push me to practice my instrument and tell me that everyone sounds terrible at the beginning and that even if you end up sitting on the bench that learning to be part of a team is a skill you’ll use for the rest of your life.
“Kids have to have a vision for their future to make present expectations make sense.”
As a teacher, I tried to give my students a vision for their future. I would get them dreaming about what kind of life or occupation they wanted as adults. Then I would show them how what they were doing that day, in our classroom, would help them fulfill their dream. When they could connect their dreams to their day to day lives, they were more motivated.
I would not only connect school expectations but parental expectations to their dream. I would tell them that keeping their room clean, being responsible for their own schoolwork and getting themselves up in the morning without their parent’s having to beg was preparing them for their future lives, for living their dream.
In my book, Raising Adults, I share that there are so many greater lessons that kids learn in school than just subject matter. I wrote it initially for those parents who had kids who struggle in school, who don’t make straight A’s. I wanted to give them “alternative goals.” Instead of making an A in English, is your child being compassionate? Are they taking responsibility for their work? Can they manage conflict?
“No one remembers what their math grade was in 6th grade, but they remember who was kind to them or the teacher who trusted them, took time to help them or inspired them.”
Kids (and parents) often gripe and complain about certain subjects that students have to learn citing that “they’ll never use that in real life.” I remember asking an employer why they looked for a college degree if it didn’t matter what the major was. He replied, “We want to hire people who will push through challenges and honor their commitments. We don’t want to hire quitters.”
That response from my employer helped me realize that there’s more to school than the subjects you (supposedly) learn. And those alternative lessons are the ones that will help your student be successful ADULTS.
6 Characteristics of a Successful Student
As a teacher for 18 years, I found that if I saw these characteristics in a child when they walked into my classroom, I KNEW they would be successful. Not only would they succeed in my class that year, but I knew they would continue to be successful into adulthood.
I have kept in touch with many of my students as they’ve finished college, began careers and started families. And I can tell you that the ones who worked on developing these characteristics are really successful adults today.
These characteristics are planted and nurtured at home, by parents. If the parents don’t have these characteristics themselves, more than likely their children won’t have them either. Children learn from their environments and from their greatest influencers – their parents.
Here are the 6 characteristics and a very basic idea of what I’m talking about.
- Confidence – Can your child converse with adults and ask for help when they need it?
- Self-Control – Can your child stop talking, sit still, control their anger when necessary?
- Critical Thinking – Can your child think through choices to their logical outcomes and then make the appropriate choice?
- Compassion – Can your child understand how others may feel?
- Conflict Management – Can your child resolve conflicts with peers and authority?
- Vision – Does your child have a dream for their own future?
In my book, I go into each of these and how parents can nurture these qualities in their children.
The Essential 55
I would also like to suggest that parents read Ron Clarks, “The Essential 55”
While his book is geared toward educators, he gives a lot of great practical advice on how students can be successful. As a teacher, I pulled out some of his suggestions and posted them on my classroom wall such as:
- When talking to someone, make eye contact.
- When you win, don’t brag. When you lose don’t show anger.
- Learn the names of all the adults in the school and when you see them greet them by name and show respect.
- Hold the door for others and don’t let it close on them.
- When offered food, only take your fair share.
These are basic skills that unfortunately many kids are not taught at home. These skills will go a long way in helping your child develop a positive reputation at school, with adults and their peers.