Sunday, June 26, 2011
Accentuating the positive
There’s a Compass program on ABC TV tonight that looks interesting. Maybe I’ll be disappointed, but I hope not.
Look at that – I just made that appear to be negative. Yet the program’s this:
Broadcasting 10.00 pm on ABC1 (Channel 2)
COMPASS: ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Explores whether a school's controversial experiment will provide a way forward to help future generations of teenagers grow up to become happier, more resilient and compassionate human beings.
I could have put what I said in my opening paragraph much more positively.
But this is what we do. We can easily fall into the trap of negativity and spread it like a cloud of doom.
I remember in my first year of teaching, I had a brother and sister in the same Grade 4 class. They were twins.
In my defence for what I’m going to tell you, I was just 18 years old, in my very first few weeks of being a full-time teacher.
I was also cranky with the little girl because it seemed obvious to me that she was making less effort at a particular task than she should have, while her brother was doing an excellent job.
So, be gentle with me.
I said to her, ‘Come on now! You’re not doing this half as well as your brother!’
Yes, yes, I know, I know, I KNOW!! It was the last thing I should have said, and I knew that the second after it came out of my mouth. I looked at her face and it told me so. Instead of spurring her on through competition, the effect was the opposite. The tears welled up in her eyes and she looked as if I’d slapped her face. I knew in an instant that this girl, who, it must be said, was not as smart as her brother, had spent her life being compared with him negatively, and here was her teacher saying exactly the same thing as everyone else in her life.
For her, it was a betrayal, and we both knew it. If I could have taken the words back by biting off the tip of my tongue, I reckon I would have done it. Hmmm – well, just about....
I couldn’t take it back. Karma doesn't work that way. It's a process that can only go forward because there's no UNDO or REWIND button. Yet at the same time I didn’t want to let her feel that tears were the way to go to get special favour in comparisons with her brother. I never compared them in any way again.
But I did make sure that when she achieved at some task when trying to perform well, she got plenty of praise and assurance, and before long, she showed no sign of the crippling effect that the constant unfavourable comparison had made in her life. Without her being conscious of it, I also gave her strategies for dealing with possible unfair comparisons at home, by focussing on her strengths in areas where brother and sister could not possibly compete.
Oddly enough, this made me aware that in assessing undergraduate essays as a university lecturer, especially for students in first year, I should be careful not to shatter a student’s confidence in comments I wrote on their essays. Remembering my first feeble attempt at an essay and Devahuti’s compassion, I always looked for something positive, however small, to begin my comments, so that I could write on the problem areas while they could bask in that ray of sunshine, however feeble it might be.
I always said that a student was entitled to make one mistake, even if it was a doozy, but was not entitled to repeat it once it was pointed out to them clearly. God knows we all make mistakes, and continue to do so throughout life. (Well, they SEEM to be mistakes anyway, but they sometimes teach us very positive lessons. Let's not talk of matters of right and wrong just now....)
I wonder if that’s the approach on the ABC program tonight? Let’s see.