Saturday, June 9, 2007

Achievement Over Self-Esteem

We would all like to raise student achievement and address the needs of each student as a "whole child." But when it comes down to it, we often have to make hard choices. If you had to choose, would you rather raise student achievement or increase self-esteem and self-worth?
If, given the hard circumstances of life, I as a teacher had the time or energy or resources to focus on only one of either student achievement or self-esteem in the classroom, I would rather emphasize student achievement.

Initially this may seem to some as calloused, reducing a student's worth to what he or she can do rather than who he or she is. However, I believe that in the end sacrificing long-term student achievement for immediate gains in self-esteem ultimately does a disservice to students, especially those who come from a disadvantaged background.

Academic achievement opens a vast array of opportunities for students to experience success--success in future academic endeavors, success in better jobs, success in greater social capital, and success in the ability to participate in a wider variety of activities as adults. By not encouraging students to achieve all they can academically, a teacher who emphasizes merely current self-esteem stunts children's potential growth and future sense of fulfillment. This stunting effect is particularly traumatic for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because these students are much more dependent on schooling in order to be well equipped for adulthood. Moreover, students who achieve academically are much more likely to develop a positive self-esteem naturally as a result of their immediate academic successes; whereas, children who are content with themselves in their status quo are much less likely to achieve academically (and thus be better equipped for future success) without being pushed to grow.

Therefore, since academic achievement carries the most potential to bring about the student's sense of fulfillment both in the short term and the long, if I couldn't focus on both, I would choose to emphasize student achievement over self-esteem.

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