By Barbara McRae, MCC
For many in the U.S., this week marks the return to school for our kids, reminding us of our experiences. In addition to remembering some awkward teenage moments, you’ll likely recall the instructors who’ve made a profound impact. Who were these teachers for you and how did their influence help shape your future?
I fondly remember several teachers who made an unforgettable impact, starting with Miss Fisher in the 4th grade to Econ Professor MacCallister in college. What I remember most about Miss Fisher was her ability to toggle between being gentle and firm, depending upon each student and their specific needs. She was my hero and I wanted to emulate her.
In my freshman year at college, Mac (that’s what we called him) had a reputation of being both the best and toughest professor on campus. I can still clearly recall an impromptu conversation near the college library. First, I was impressed that he greeted me by name, unlike most professors. But that wasn’t all. He asked, “How’s it going?” I said, “Great, except for YOUR class.”
Mac wisely explained that we each have our own set of talents and that it’s important to value our uniqueness. He added that I no doubt could run circles around him in other areas of study. Wow! Not only did he treat me as an equal, no educator had ever said that to me before!
I felt deeply validated by his remark. It encouraged me to continue doing my best work even in a field that wasn’t “natural” for me. I ended up surprising myself by achieving a B minus and subsequently an A minus in economics.
As parents we wish that all teachers could be this inspiring to our children. And while it is clear that our teachers need help and our school systems need a makeover, let’s focus on what we can do right now. Consider the powerful impact that parents have on their kids.
How is parenting similar to teaching? Here are some of the best practices teachers and parents have in common:
1. They are enthusiastic about their role (parent, teacher, or coach) and bring the best part of themselves to the table.
2. They are clear about their teaching goals are and recognize how to turn everyday experiences into a learning opportunity.
3. They model respectful, approachable, and empowering behavior.
4. They articulate expectations of behavior and identify clear boundaries in advance prior to enforcing consequences.
5. They acknowledge individual differences and celebrate them.
Be on the look-out for opportunities to motivate and empower kids. If you’ve noticed that your child loves to journal or writes poetry, say something like: “That’s a great talent you have!” or “Your writing is something that makes you so special,” with no strings attached.
Stay away from: “I wish you would write more!” or “You really should do something with that writing ability of yours.” While well-intentioned, this phrasing can easily be taken as a criticism of not doing enough (and therefore not being enough as a person), resulting in de-motivation.
Parents like teachers often won’t precisely know the result of how they’ve shaped or inspired a child. You might never receive acknowledgment for all that you’ve done. Will that stop you from doing it? I hope not.
As nice as it is to receive appreciation, you’ll still know, on the inside, that you did a great job in preparing your kids for a successful life and have contributed to making our society a better place.
Barbara McRae, MCC
Teen Parenting Expert, Campus Calm
© Barbara McRae