A Teacher Laments

I have just about had it up to here! One more argument or fit of tears and I think I will scream. I know that I am supposed to be a super teacher with an endless supply of patience and energy, a technique for every situation, and a solution for every problem, but sometimes… I cannot believe that he just crumpled up his assignment again because it was not exactly the way he wanted it to be. How can I get through all my lesson plans? Oh terrific. There she goes, grabbing his pencil yet one more time. I can see the headlines now: “Youth who stole pencils in her formative years arrested for grand theft!”

I want these children to grow to be happy, successful adults. I do everything I can. I talk with them and reason with them, but sometimes it is as if I were talking to the air. The same things keep happening over and over again.

With youngsters as they are, it’s difficult enough to get all the subjects covered that must be taught. Now you want me to teach something else? How can I find the time? Why should I bother?

Teachers in the 21st century have the formidable job of educating a nation of youth at risk. A significant number of young people have a strong potential for dropping out of school, becoming involved with youth violence, teen pregnancy and substance abuse. (Weissberg, Walberg, O’Brian, & Kuster, 2003). Studies indicate that a relatively few youths possess the the kinds of skills, values and supports that protect them against these kinds of risks and promotes their engagement in postitive behaviors. (Benson, Scales, Leffert & Roehlkepartain, 1997).

Classrooms are filled with youngsters displaying a wide range of concerns and behavioral problems that teachers have little time and few techniques to address. Students may suffer from poor self-awareness, low concentration, lack of motivation, little self-discipline, low self-esteem, poor communication, an inability to express feelings effectively, difficulty in resolving conflicts, and a significant amount of emotional pain.

Anxious, unhappy, angry youngsters do not make ideal students. As they try to focus their attention on getting their needs met and feeling better, little concentration is left for learning. As they search for and find inappropriate outlets for their emotions, they misbehave, often creating conflicts between students. Teachers spend too much valuable class time dealing with issues between students. (Frey, Nolen, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005). Encouraging a classroom full of such students to learn effectively can be very time consuming and frustrating.

The question we need to ask is this: If children are struggling academically because other issues are occupying their minds, will giving them more academics help? Or do we want to educate them to deal effectively with their feelings, needs and relationships so that they can then absorb the academics? (Elias, 97).

It might be helpful to enlarge our definitions of the the intelligence we want our build our students to acquire so that it includes “emotional intelligence”. (Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, 2000). Howard Gardner (1983) in his definitive work, “Frames of Mind” offers educators other intelligences we may want to consider promoting, which encompass but expand upon emotional intelligence. He describes intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence as two of the multiple intelligences we possess and writes of the need to develop these intelligences, thus developing each individual to the fullest.

Research indicates that supporting emotional and social development is the missing piece in the education of our youth. Researchers from various fields of inquiry have come to similar conclusions – the importance of educating not just the mind, but the whole person. There is mounting evidence to support a strong link between social-emotional learning and academic performance as well as an increased likelihood that youths who build social-emotional competencies will develop the values and attitudes leading to safer, less risky life choices. (Elias, Zins, Weisberg, Frey, Greenberg & Haynes1997).

In his groundbreaking research on emotional intelligence Daniel Goleman (1995) asserted the great need for developing mastery over the emotional realm so that people can get their needs met it healthy ways. He spoke of the need for developing social and emotional competencies, indicating that they are learnable and that the school environment is an ideal context in which to develop them.. This seems logical, as schools have access to youths, a history of effective presentation of knowledge and skills and highly competent professionals to transmit the information.

…As teachers help promote social and emotional learning, they will be able to lessen their students’ frustrations, helping them to get their needs met in positive, healthy ways, make classroom time more productive, prevent behavioral problems, build students of character and increase academic prowess. They will be able to do so by providing their students with a body of information and a set of skills with which to make informed, positive, independent choices regarding their social, emotional and mental well-being (Dewhurst, 1991) (Zins, Elias, Greenberg & Weissberg, 2000). This curriculum provides teachers with the tools to do just that.

It is important to clarify the nature of the information and the kinds of skills teachers need to provide in order to promote effective emotional, social and ethical decision-making. The underlying theme to all of the areas to be covered is that of making effective choices.

William Glasser, (1988), in his discussion of control theory, explains that every behavior we exhibit is based on our best attempt to meet a need. He further explains that each of our actions, thoughts, and indirectly, our feelings, are based on unconscious choices. In order to make the most effective choices possible, we need to examine and reformulate our thoughts.

Daniel Goleman’s (1995) research on emotional intelligence indicates that in order to develop social and emotional competencies, youngsters must develop the skills to challenge their often inflexible thoughts. He spoke to the importance of checking one’s thoughts against available evidence, thus offering cognitive guidance before the emotional switch goes into effect, triggering ineffective choices.

Albert Ellis (2001), one of the pioneers of the cognitive-behavioral approach, further describes the crucial process of checking thoughts against evidence. He explains the importance of examining our erroneous beliefs – assumptions – which lead to the thoughts that then trigger emotions which prompt us to behave in particular ways. In order to affect the ultimate behavioral choice, it is necessary to evaluate the assumption for errors in logic. This book is centered around that exact process.

The book begins by showing that every thought, feeling, and behavior is based on a choice that has been made. Often, however, these choices are made by default, out of habit, or based on faulty or no information. The curriculum helps the teacher to help students make choices consciously and effectively, by developing students’ abilities to think before they feel and act.

The lessons in this book help students to examine the assumptions that inform their thoughts, trigger their emotions and ultimately lead to their behavioral choices. Students are taught about what assumptions are; some basic errors in logic that lead to assumptions; how to examine their assumptions and thoughts for errors in logic; how to change the assumptions to provable beliefs and then change their thoughts, feelings and finally their behavioral choices. They then are taught to apply this fundamental, underlying process across myriad situations. Assumptions are explored as they relate to dealing with a variety of emotions; issues of self-acceptance; issues related to a variety of relationships and ethical choices. The examination and reframing of underlying assumptions helps students truly learn how to stop, think and choose well, and in allignment with their values, rather than merely comprehending their options at a conceptual level.

The curriculum utilizes drama as a primary medium with which to observe and evaluate choices and rehearse alternate options. Most of the lessons in this book are based around a series of scenes, focused on the choices being explored…Each scene is designed to help students to examine the assumptions that inform their thoughts, trigger their emotions and ultimately lead to their behaviors. …The first scene enacted and examined in every lesson reflects the thoughts, feelings and behaviors based on an assumption made. The assumption, thoughts and feelings are highlighted as they are presented as actual dialogue in each scene.

This is followed by an investigation of the scene in light of some of the basic errors in logic which lead to assumptions – “crystal-balling” – when one claims to know what will happen in the future, “generalizing” – when one exaggerates by stretching the truth, using words such as always, never, everyone and no one, and “awfulizing” – a form of generalizing where one claims that something is awful, horrible or terrible.

The investigation is followed by a discussion of the scene, including the ways in which the assumption affected the character’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, how to change the assumption to a more provable belief, and how that new belief would alter the character’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors and final outcome. A second scene is then enacted which reflects the thoughts, feelings and behaviors based on the provable belief.

This dramatic enactment, evaluation and reenactment of the process of how choices are ultimately made (from assumption to thoughts to feelings to actions) offers a powerful opportunity to experience this process and rehearse the process of changing behaviors by first changing beliefs and then rehearsing new thoughts and actions stemming from them. Dramatizing this process is as close as possible to experiencing it in real life, thus making it more likely that this learning might be applied in the students’ own lives.

…One of the strengths of this curriculum is the comprehensive range of skills, fundamental to making increasingly effective life choices, which are addressed. Students are initially exposed to building skills in cooperation. There are activities infused throughout the curriculum that continue to support the acquisition of this skill. Not only is this an important life skill but it supports the teaching of the curriculum, as many of the activities are of a cooperative nature.

The first section of the curriculum offers.... exercises which build emotional skills. Among these skills are fundamental stress-management skills which are addressed at the beginning of the curriculum as well as sprinkled throughout. Section two promotes the development of social skills and the third section provides activities which further develop life skills such as values-clarification; communication; negotiation; assertiveness; conflict-management; and goal-setting.