This I believe … believe in a child, and the child will believe in itself. Listen to a child, and you will be able to help solve its problems.
For 10 years, I tutored at-risk children one-on-one at a local elementary school in a small town in Michigan. These were children who were not performing up to standards or were a problem in the classroom, often both. Yet almost without exception, I found them to be good and capable children.
Sometimes there were real learning issues, but more often the real problem stemmed from
the children’s lack of self-esteem. And what I found, year after year, student after student, was that when I connected with the child, when I showed that I believed in them and was there for them when they needed someone to talk to … within a few months, they would undergo a truly remarkable transformation in their self-esteem and in their performance in the classroom. Their lives were changed.
A child is a fragile, precious being … even the ones who appear tough. How often have I seen children break down and cry because they were told they were stupid by peers or parents. Perhaps the most heartbreaking experience I had was with a small boy who the system was about to write off … he wasn’t learning anything, he fought with everyone, and his parents were not cooperative. Yet, I was able to reach this “difficult” child immediately and we bonded. One day he came into the room, sobbing, and said “I don’t want to be me anymore” … and this was a first grader! As our relationship continued he gained self-esteem and I found that he knew more than the school thought he did. He wasn’t impossible at all. The parents saw the change and they came around as well.
These are not problem children, just children who are starving for the right kind of attention. Parents are so busy with the demands they face and teachers are so taxed in the classroom that many just aren’t there for these children in the way that they need. These children had never felt they were believed in. And so, even though I was only meeting with them for a half hour, twice a week, that steady, one-on-one contact gave the children what they so desperately needed … someone who believed in them and belief in themselves.
I believe that if all children had the benefit of experiencing someone who believed in them, many of the problems that we see in our schools and in our society today would be significantly diminished. For the sake of the children, our communities and schools must find a way to insure that each and every child has that experience and the resulting opportunity to make the most of their lives. No child should fall through the cracks.
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