Criticism isn’t the only way to make students better

Published by adviser, Author: Dylan Vamosi - Rocket Contributor, Date: April 21, 2016

“Bad behavior is punished, good behavior is expected.”

The above quote is ­­ more or less ­­ the philosophy of many leaders. Essentially, its message is one that undermines compliments and praise and favors of rigor and expectations. It applies to many human interactions, but this piece specifically ties the quote to education and how teachers are to treat students.
The quote has merit because it establishes clear expectations. Expecting a norm of “good” is beneficial because it stigmatizes anything that would be considered “bad.” Bad behavior, furthermore, will be punished because it has been established as unacceptable. This philosophy

is helpful because of how it manages people and their actions ­­ but it lacks in meaningful social development.
What is problematic about this philosophy is that the absence of praise for meaningful behavior leaves people, particularly young people, feeling unappreciated and empty.
Students need social collateral for the intellectual investments that they provide for their teachers. Ideally, this collateral would include a sense of belonging, community and personal relationships. Teachers must provide this because, for many students, it is uncertain who else will.
Invariably, a considerable amount of home lives for students are undesirable for numerous reasons. What they need is an indicator that their dedication ­­ their work and participation ­­ is not simply meant to be criticized, but to be personally valued.
They do not need to be managed further (they will inevitably get that elsewhere). What is important to young people is instilling in them a sense of meaning ­­ a relationship. If goodness is expected, it becomes stagnant, static, and meaningless. Make goodness meaningful and dynamic.
Praise is a worthy investment because it is low cost for a high reward. Critics of additional praise might contend that being quick to compliment loosens the standards by which one is expected to perform, and thus lowers his or her level of performance. This could be true if the praise is used excessively.
For example, if I told Bobby that he was excellent at discussion every day regardless of his daily performance, my positive reinforcement will lose meaning because it is expected. Furthermore, the standard that accompanies “good discussion” loses its meaning because there is nothing concrete to judge it by. I am not arguing for positive reinforcement to an absurd degree. What I am contending is that criticisms are not the only way to develop students and push them to strive for greatness. Development ­­ and social collateral also come by way of praise, by way of positive reinforcement. To give students this social incentive is to instill in them personal value and reason to continue. Be sure to let Bobby know that his comments regarding the implications of globalization are valued and important ­­ not just for the purposes of class, but for the purposes of him.
More than anything, this piece is a criticism of my own behavior. I student teach at Shenango Junior/Senior high school ­­ just a few minutes outside of New Castle. My placement entails modeling how to be effective and respectful citizens to 7th and 12th grade students. What I do well academically is diminished by my deficiency in giving students reason to feel proud of their work. Seriously. How hard would it be to pull a kid aside after class and tell him or her that their work was outstanding? Furthermore, without explicitly stating a student’s desirable behavior, it is difficult to know how valuable their behavior is. Growth is more than just meeting expectations; it is about forming reciprocating relationships that mutually benefit each other. The times that I have pulled students aside to compliment their behavior has benefitted me tremendously  because the students feel more inclined to participate because they realize the personal consequences that follow.
More generally, interjecting praise into an otherwise hypercritical society can go a long way. As you go about your day, mention to your peer or friend something that they have done well ­­, an ability or otherwise. If they are not receiving positive reinforcement from you, they could very likely be receiving it from nobody.


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