“It’s not as big as I thought it was.” This is what passes my mind every time I visit the place I grew up as a child. As I loiter in the playground, soccer field and drive around the neighborhood, I realize that there is a huge difference in the perception held between then and now. What I used to dread, be uncertain about and had little or no information for unravel themselves as an open book, eliminating fears, uncertainties, and ignorance – allowing me the feeling of complete control over the experiences of owning the place I had once inhabited. I feel the same about the national examination I took when I was seventeen, my first break-up, and loss of a loved one. All these were “not as big as I thought they were.” However, it took me some time before I understood the true nature and enormity of the issue.
A matter of time
If there is one thing that I am completely convinced about and passionately advocate as a teacher is that “things, circumstances and people do change – all I need to do is to allow some time for the change to take place, naturally.” Time and opportunity are the two most important ingredients to bringing out the best in others. When faced with a difficult student, it is easier for a teacher to give up on him and focus on other better performing and well behaved students. But an educator is called to go beyond his or her call of duty and look into and meet the needs of even an under performing, disruptive student.
For most students, especially the ones classified as liabilities to the school system, it’s just a matter of time till they turn around and make amendments. No one wants to continue being a failure. No one cherishes the idea of being an object of others’ mockery and disapproval. But the change is not automatic.
Countless research findings in the area of resiliency point to the fact that it takes only one person to believe in a “problematic” student to bring about positive changes – behavioral and academic. And research indicate that this person is often a teacher – someone who is willing to give the student time and opportunity to make cognitive, emotional, and behavioral commitment to explore and tap into the reservoir of his or her innate abilities and potential and use them for a better function at school and elsewhere.
Beware of him
When I started out as a lecturer in an international college, a few of my colleagues warned me about a particular student whose behavior and academic performance did not impress them. “Watch out for so and so; he doesn’t submit assignments on time, comes late to class, is often absent, and doesn’t do well in exams,” were some of the things I heard from them. Before they could go on, I told them to stop filling my mind with such information because I didn’t want to view students with pre-conceived ideas, especially negative ones.
Sure enough, I soon learned that this student was all that my colleagues said he would be. So one day, I called him to the office, looked at him and said, “You have great potential in you; the few times you answered some of the questions posed in the class were mind-boggling, and I see greatness in you. Do you see that in yourself?” He gently nodded and whispered, “Yes.” I continued, “It is only you who could put your acts together, realize what you really want in life, and move in the direction of your dreams.” The student instantly opened up and started sharing about his dreams.
What I heard from him thereafter was amazing. His parents are educators, who own a private Thai school in Bangkok. He went on saying that he wants to finish college, continue with his graduate studies in education, and help them at the school. No one knew about this. It was hidden from others who only saw him as a troubled student. But because I believed in him and communicated this hope in his potential and possibility of a changed him, he was willing to open up, re-prioritize his goals, and pursue his ambition.
The months and years ahead were not smooth for him, but the positive changes were clearly evident. I focused on giving him more time and opportunity to prove to himself and others that he was serious about his dreams. He did just that. He graduated in May 2007 and started working as a learning support teacher in an international school in Bangkok. One day, as I was checking e-mail, I saw a mail from him that read: “Dear Dr. Roy, check this website out; it’s an article about homework and learning that might interest you. I am helping a boy with ADHD and he is gaining a significant improvement in his studies” I smiled and felt proud of the kind of person he had become just because he found one person who believed in his potential, and gave him the time and opportunity he needed to bloom into the better him.
As teachers, we fail when we give up without trying and in the process of trying to build a student, let us not forget that best gifts we can give our students are time and opportunity.