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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cherishing kids for who they are — and could be

“The heart of our job as teachers is to know and honor children’s full selves,” writes Justin Minkel, who teaches first- and second-graders, in Education Week Teacher. “It is also our job to see their future selves . . . who they could become.”

“Ernie” liked to talk about the pictures and ignore the words. Working with him, Minkel found something to praise, such as “I love how you’re paying such close attention to the pictures to help you figure out the story.”

Ernie now reads a book on dolphins, word for word, every day.

Teachers spend a lot of time “wishing our students were different,” Minkel writes. “We wish they were quieter, less rowdy, better at listening, better at following directions, better at reading, writing, and doing math.”

Children get the message that “we don’t like them the way they are,” he writes.

The children we teach need to know and feel that we care about them unconditionally. We often withhold praise and affection, along with recess or other fundamental rights, from students who are behaving badly. But those are the exact moments — when a child is feeling angry, unloved, or restless in her own skin — that children most need our reassurance and compassion. . . . If we can learn to accept them as they are, they will begin to change.

Teachers do want their students to change — and not because they dislike them. Ernie couldn’t read. Now he can. That’s good.

Teachers, what do you think?

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