How can we teach appreciation?

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A few days ago, I went out with an ex-colleague who interestingly pointed out that some of our students do not quite know how to appreciate. “They gave the least in return.” He said, and this random remark echoed alongside the deep recesses of my own mind.

For more than a year, I had avoided speaking about it because it just wasn’t something you could talk about openly, this, lack of love and appreciation from your own form class. It was somewhat embarrassing even, for did you expect your students to adorn you with gifts and words of thanks?

Teachers’ Day came and went by last year, and I remembered … not receiving any card nor words of thanks from them. Yes some individual students were really sweet and bought us some flowers and chocolates… All very arbitrary and random thoughts put together because of the festivity of the occasion.

This year, my birthday also came and went, and the class was disappointingly more interested in having their own cake and party. I don’t mean that they ought to throw me a birthday surprise but I had at least hoped they would remember and not expect me to throw them a celebration.

This episode does not stand on its own. I bought a cake for the class last year. A boy said “What cake is this? It’s not nice.” They would always be thinking about what could be done for them than what could be done for others. It feels that whatever we have done for them, most of the class is happy just being at the receiving end of things.

If not for the comment my colleague gave, I probably would have avoided even thinking about it. I cannot figure out if theirs is a matter of not knowing how to show appreciation, or of appreciating others. If it is the former, we could show them strategies and ways to spread kindness and thanks. But if it was the latter, how can we teach the younger generation to be thankful and not assume that things should go in a particular way as planned? Life is not going to present challenges to them all nicely decked with a red bow.

I think parents and schools need to look at this issue and take action to reinforce the good values of sharing, caring and giving thanks among the young people. Perhaps we should be more strategic and thoughtful in rewarding our students when they do well. A friend once mentioned that we reward too easily for things they should be doing, perhaps because our expectations have fallen that low. It doesn’t give students any reason to want to do better than they are, not so much because they cannot, but because they don’t need to.

My school has a merit/demerit point system which helps to indicate a student’s conduct in school for the semester. We were told at our level meetings that we should remember to be more generous when awarding students with merit points. We arrived at this proposal to award students without any misbehavior with some points. I clarified this with the level Dean who said yes to this definition: that we reward students who behave as they should. I don’t know whether we hear sirens when we look at it that way, but I know I didn’t like the idea. Students become in the habit of asking to be rewarded for something nice they did. Even if we want to encourage it to become a norm in life. Does it actually work to inculcate such habits of kindness in students? I have my doubts.

Perhaps it is also the way we market ideas and programmes to our students. When we tell them “this is a great opportunity!” and “we believe in you!”, I think we are essentially telling our students that we think they are great, and they are fantastic, and they should be a part of it because they deserve it. I think sometimes we present them too many opportunities and we forgot that we have also inflated their ego enough. As far as I can remember, opportunities to represent the school, go for conferences, or participate in trainings were privileges my peers and I would look upon with admiration and envy. Nobody would wave them at you and coax you to participate by inflating your ego time and time again. We would be yearning secretly for a chance to be a part of the programme, and if we had the chance, it would be something almost sacred we never for granted. Maybe we coax the students too much, and give them too many opportunities they think they have a right to choose. They withdraw from competition when the commitment surpasses what they are comfortable with, they shrink back and fear to follow through.

This brings us back to the issue of self- entitlement that characterises children today. When will we stop reinforcing this sense of self- entitlement in our own children?

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