The following is an excerpt from James Burns’s first book, The New 3R’s in Education: Respect, Responsibility & Relationships. Over the next several months, we will be sharing other portions of this book.
As a young boy, I always believed that if I excelled in the basics I would be successful in life. My parents insisted on good grades, and they made it known to me if they thought that I wasn’t working up to my potential. I never thought that I would get into college, but I did. However, I was almost asked to leave the school after my first semester because my grade point average was a 1.0; that’s a D. I wasn’t sure of my future and became frightened thinking about what would happen to me if I didn’t start putting my mind to my work.
I decided to go into teaching. For the next three and a half years, I worked hard, and I graduated with a 2.9. That was a lot of A’s. I could never understand why those A’s were so hard to achieve; I had to work three times harder than anyone else to get good grades. I had problems retaining information and being able to recall the information at test time. It was painful to study. I probably had test anxiety and didn’t even realize it. I was constantly distracted by circumstances and relationships, and was a very insecure person. I was afraid of confrontations with others and speaking my mind, and usually said what I thought others of any significance wanted to hear.
I came to learn as I began my teaching career that my students, other teachers, and even the parents I worked with had many of the same problems. They were caught up with the trials of life and couldn’t focus on tasks. Teachers and society in general started believing that people with these shortcomings had ADD. I had some pieces missing, and I definitely wasn’t the sum of my parts. My students had pieces missing; their parents had pieces missing; and many other people had some pieces missing. What were these missing pieces?
After many years of my own struggles and after working with students, parents, and aspiring teachers as a college instructor, it became obvious that the problems that existed in schools and in society in general were not due to a lack of student academic ability. Rather, the problems were due to people’s inability to develop a sense of respect for authority figures, lack of a responsible attitude regarding their academic assignments and behavior, and inability to form meaningful relationships with their parents, teachers, or any person of significance.
It was once believed that if a person had an understanding of the “Three R’s” of reading, writing, and arithmetic that he or she would be successful in life; that is not the case anymore. Many children today don’t come to school with respectful attitudes or a sense of responsibility, and lack the ability to develop relationships with teachers. Believe it or not, teachers have a hard time developing relationships with their students. Many students who struggle academically tend to lack respect for their teachers; instead, they work harder at trying to figure out how to get out of completing assignments than at being responsible and completing their assignments. They also tend to lack the overall ability to form relationships with adults and friendships with other children.
As teachers, we can’t be naive to these facts, but we have to realize that these problems didn’t start yesterday. They have been going on in society for many years. Teachers and parents must also develop these lost skills and attitudes in our students and our children if we are going to develop adults who will excel academically, socially, and emotionally. Some children develop as good students without these skills, but in my experience, as they mature, they lack the skills needed to become good workers, marriage partners, and even parents. They become classic underachievers who are filled with knowledge but rub everyone the wrong way. They also become people who can’t hold a job or stay married for any length of time.
So, how do we develop these skills in our students and our children? How can we ensure their success in these three vital areas? These qualities won’t develop on their own; we may even have to change our own attitudes and behaviors as teachers and parents. It may take some time, but it will be worth the effort.
James Burns is a popular speaker on the topic of Anti Bullying and the co-designer of the RTC Online and face2face course:The Bully Proof Classroom. You can also catch Jim on BlogTalk Radio @ http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bullyproofclassroom where he can be heard discussing bullying issues on a regular basis. Check in on Mondays for the “Anti Bullying Tip.” Jim is a popular instructor with the Regional Training Center as well. Besides teaching the course he co-designed, “The Bully Proof Classroom,” he also teaches “Cooperative Discipline,” “Skills and Strategies for Inclusion and Disability Awareness,” and “Brain-Based Teaching and Learning.” His newest book is entitled Anti-Bullying 101.