Self Esteem and the Role it Plays in Americas Schools

Self-esteem, in my humble opinion, is one of the most important skills we need to foster in young children today. Our world is changing and as children get older, more and more demands will be placed on them. A child with a damaged self-esteem is sure to struggle in most everything he/she attempts in life.

I’m a reading specialist in a school that pulls from a very low socio-economic population. The teachers I work with, have had to put emotional “bandaids” on our students daily because of the very rough lives some of them experience. I have seen and heard of family situations that would make you cry. As you might imagine, these problems are brought to school, and many times affect learning and self-esteem.

A few years ago, a new principal joined our school. A few days after she arrived, she invited me to her office so we could discuss a few things. She wanted to get to know me better and to “pick my brain” about the students, my job, and what I thought of the school in general. At one point she asked me what I thought my best quality as a reading specialist was. I think she expected me to talk about a certain reading technique, or how I conducted my small group reading sessions. Instead I told her the best thing I do for my students is to work on their self-esteem.

She looked extremely surprised by my answer. I quickly explained that I worked with students who already viewed themselves as “failures”. Keep in mind I work with children in first grade. If they already see themselves as failures in first grade, what chance do they have in the future to succeed? I hold firm to the belief that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.

This is the lesson I try to tie into everything I work on with my students. I want them to like themselves, be able to laugh at themselves if they make a mistake, and be willing to try again. Fear of failure and fear of being laughed at will often shut a student down, and if this happens frequently, their self-esteem takes a serious hit.

If I make a mistake, I admit it to my students. I share personal stories from home, much to the dismay of my sons. The “ups and downs” from home give my students a living story of examples in self-esteem that I want them to learn about. Through this technique they see that I am a human with faults and feelings, and in turn, they aren’t so afraid to show who they are.

Teaching them to read becomes a much easier job when they know that they are “somebody special”! My day is filled with laughs, hugs, learning, and smiles…it certainly doesn’t get any better than that!