As I sit at my computer typing these words, my heart is burdened by the growing list of scary and depressing things happening in America’s schools. The incidence of bullying and violence on campus is raging out of control. We read stories (or, sadly, experience it first hand on our campus) the rise in teen suicide. We know students fall through the cracks academically and drop out of school in frustration. We read news stories of teachers being arrested for having inappropriate relationships with students. We watch as the teacher shortage grows while, at the same time, new teachers leave the profession in droves.

As educators who love our kids, our hearts break with every news story. What is happening? How are we going to solve these problems?

It is easy to become fearful and lose hope; but fellow educators, we must not! As we actively and relentlessly work to solve these problems, we must remember the power we educators have in the lives of ours students. I believe now, more than ever, our students are looking to their teachers for help and guidance. Therefore,

I am starting a new series of articles entitled, “The Power of the Positive Teacher.”

I do not mean that we educators hide our head in the sand and act like it’s the 1950’s when the biggest challenges on campus were kids running in the halls and chewing gum in class. As educators, we must face what is happening on our campuses and in the lives of our students and make an intentional decision to be a powerful, positive force in our students’ lives. This series of articles will explore the importance of being that powerful, positive influence in our students’ lives. My articles will offer specific, practical ways to accomplish that goal. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get started!

Attending school is a fairly common shared experience for most people. When I tell people I am a teacher, many like to share a story from their childhood or tell me about their children’s teachers. Some memories are fond, some are painful. At one of my husband’s corporate dinners, a gentleman who is the president of a Fortune 500 company told me how he flunked first grade and had to repeat it. I caught a sense of sadness and embarrassment in his voice. How amazing, I thought, that although this man was quite successful he was still bothered by the fact that he flunked the first grade. I put that conversation away in my heart to remind myself to be gentle with my students’ feelings.

My husband shares quite a different experience. When he was a freshman at the Naval Academy, he tested out of Freshman Calculus (that would never happen for me!) and was put in an advanced class. He felt intimated by the course work, so much so that he convinced himself he could not do it. Although he faithfully attended the professor’s office hours to receive additional tutoring, his mindset that he was not capable of doing this higher level calculus almost made his fear a reality. One afternoon during a tutoring session, his professor put his hand on my husband’s shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “John, you can do this.” This brief conversation, more than the hours of intense, focused tutoring, changed my husband’s perspective of his own intellectual ability and he passed the class. John went on to have a very successful career in the Navy and then Corporate America (yes- I am very proud of my husband).

Decades later, he still remembers his professor’s words as a life changing moment.

Four simple words, “you can do this.” No fancy pedagogy required; no years of research into best practices needed to accomplish that profound change in a student’s life. That professor was just an excellent educator who believed in his student and let him know it. “You can do this.” As educators, we must remember the power of our words in the lives of our students. Take a moment today to listen to the words (and the tone of voice) you use with your students. Do your words encourage and inspire your students to do their very best? Do your words consistently convey the message that you are committed to their success and that you have high expectations for them because you believe in them?

Remember, for some of our students, we may be the only positive voice in their life.

Jackie Matthews

Jackie Matthews

Education done well (with excellence, passion and love) can change individual lives and entire communities for generations. One of the most exciting and rewarding personal experiences in my life is watching someone “get it."

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