As a teacher, I know I influence students every day. I strive to be a good role model and show them passion for learning, excitement about reading and reading, pride in their math skills. Young people are greatly shaped by their environment. If they are around positive energy, they may absorb it. I find students leave my class excited about reading and writing because that’s what I am excited about.
If they are exposed to the negative, however, they internalize that even faster.
The best students, with straight A’s and good behavior, are quiet in class. Those that constantly draw the teacher’s attention are the students who are breaking rules, slacking off, or disturbing classmates. Even if it’s negative, they are getting attention from the teacher, being held up as an example in front of others. Young people crave attention, even negative attention, so the middle kids, neither straight A’s nor problems, more often follow the negative leaders than the positive. Society has taught them that. Books, television, and celebrities all show that the naughty ones get all the attention. Therefore, a young person struts with pleasure to be called a badass and lashes out with ugly words or physical violence when called a nerd.
I can influence the young people who come into my classroom, but only if their poorly behaved classmates allow me. That is the sad truth. I can stand in front of the class every day and talk about being kind to one another, about not bullying, about being a good example. They all see themselves as victims–quick to recognize bullying in others, but not in themselves. When I tell them the most powerful tool they have in middle school is the ability to turn their back and walk away, they look at me like I have three heads.
I hope that someday my current sixth graders will realize the reward of achieving something positive, be it grades, getting into a good college, or doing something kind for another. I hope that something I’ve said this year will stick down deep and be remembered in a few years when life is harder. And I hope that at least one of them returns to tell me I made a difference, that my effort was noticed if not immediately appreciated.