There were times when I thought that I was put on earth for one purpose: to tell my sister what time it was. That changed, though, when I lost my Darth Vader digital watch in 1979. Then, when Stephany would ask what time it was, I would have to look for a clock in the kitchen or in a bedroom. Without the convenience of time on my wrist, I began to get impatient with her every time she’d ask what time it was. And then it hit me.
“Chris, what time is it?”
“Why don’t you look for yourself?”
“You have a watch.”
(By the way, this is all done with a least one room between us).
“No I don’t,” I said.
“Where is your watch?” she asked.
“It’s lost,” I said.
My sister’s been in town since Thursday, and time is still an issue in our relationship. She still asks me “What time is it?” or “Why didn’t I wake her up sooner?” and I still get that sinking feeling that I had back in 1979: the irritation that “I’m not my sister’s timekeeper.” Actually, it’s mostly the loss of my Darth Vader watch (it was a really cool).
We’re getting ready to play a game of chess last night (sort of our thing to do when she comes out to visit), and we were doing the usual sibling badgering. I think I made some comment about how losing builds character and she retorts with this zinger:
“Have you ever heard of positive reinforcement for your students as opposed to negative criticism toward them?”
Earlier that evening I had read some quote from a local school official on how there’s there is a huge correlation between self-esteem and GPA. I was annoyed at the simplicity of the claim and the person’s use of the word “huge” in making an educational statement and so I pounced on my sister’s question.
Not many encouraging things were said during the first few moves of the game. And, as is the case of a complicated opening (no captured pieces until move 14), if you let a conversation play out for a while, you end up with the thing that really bothers both sides. For Stephany it was the tone of her workplace and how there’s people there who incessantly complain and bicker but also don’t work very hard; for me, it was trying to convince my sister that some students don’t need positive reinforcement because they’ve been told too many times that “you are doing great” or “you are so special.” As a result of this general “feel-goodness,” not all of my students “do their best work.”
“Why should they?” I asked her. “What’s in it for them? Grades? Approval? Internal joy and happiness?”
And she gave me one of those “you can’t say that, can you?” looks.
It amazes me that my family is concerned about the time when they are rarely punctual. Time, for my family, is a mere suggestion rather than a list to keep up with. This didn’t bode well when Lori’s family was 20 minutes early for the before-the-wedding pictures and the Judsons ambled in, relaxed, 25 minutes late. And I still believe today what went through my mind then: I’m stuck with them and there’s no changing people for my own convenience.
I have little choice in who takes my classes (or, probably more accurately, who is assigned to my classes). I also have little say in whether or not students do their homework, do well on exams and, most of all, care about the work they do for my assignments. One of the greatest harms that our profession can promote is replacing a clear and fair assessment of student work with points of positive praise for egos. Self-worth and self-esteem come not from my words or approval or grades, but from your own self. The problem though, is that most people want to wallow in self-pity and self-reflection instead of accepting that some things in life are just plain difficult to do and you just have to work at it. I can kind of understand the underlying annoyance when Yoda responds to yet another whiny Luke Skywalker question: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
For the last weeks of the trimester, that’s a timely assessment– fair and clear.