By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
In previous articles I pointed out that presently many of our people in Belize are struggling, day in and day out, to survive ever-increasing hard times. However, as pitiful and miserable as our current violent situations may be, positive change for the better is always within our control. We will improve on any out-of-hand or dangerous situations in which we live today once we choose to cease living in pathetic, but comfortable, conditions of “learned helplessness”. (See belizeguidance.blogspot.com for definition.) It is sad that many of us choose to live under such negative conditions, and prefer to firmly insist that everything is beyond our control, and that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. However, in direct contrast, I encourage you to look closely at teachers and educators to see how they deal with the problem of learned helplessness. On a daily basis they give students (our children) the “boost” which they very often desperately need in order to bounce back from total burnout situations where/when everything may be going wrong for them, either academically, morally, or otherwise.
Educators (teachers, principals and administrators, school counselors, assistants and anyone who works within a school system) are often misunderstood by students, parents, and by the community. Actually, some educators themselves often misunderstand their own purpose or disregard the reason why they chose to work in Education as a profession. There is no doubt that, despite any lofty ideals they may have, all educators need to earn a living just like everyone else. So, yes, educators work everyday for a salary. However, above and beyond earning a living, educators’ ultimate goal is to prepare young people to live productively in our society. To fulfill this goal, educators willingly take on tremendous social responsibilities which, sad to say, too often are misunderstood and not at all appreciated by many in our society, beginning with the very students whom educators try to help everyday. Consequently some educators, after repeatedly being misunderstood, become disheartened enough to work in the field of Education each day merely to earn a living, nothing else.
For the record: educators do not work in their profession simply to oblige students to memorize required information and/or data from books, day in and day out (rote learning), and then “spit it all back out” in frequent tests and examinations. Yes, students take tests at schools regularly as a way/means to show teachers whether they are learning anything or not. But, in addition to creating standardized testing, each day educators encourage young people to shape equitable and productive lives by providing them with educational resources that show them “how” they can develop. Educators show students, especially from the high school level upwards, how they can embark on the path to becoming productive citizens as future teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, business men and women, entrepreneurs, and even sport professionals.
An important part of the social responsibility that educators fully embrace everyday includes working productively with young people who are high-achievers, low-achievers, and everything in between. What employer in the everyday world of work takes the time and makes every effort to accommodate low-achievers, and make sure that they feel “accepted”? Educators are professionally trained to help students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, feel accommodated, appreciated, and challenged at their own individual levels. After all, only by being challenged will students make every effort to soar higher and higher each day at school. In the adult world of work, employers challenge employees to be productive by offering financial incentives (salaries, bonuses, climbing the corporate ladder etc.); in schools teachers challenge students to be productive academically and otherwise (sports) with the promise of high grades and outstanding recognition. Educators are professionally trained on how to take “first steps” toward changing and improving failing situations in which students at times find themselves. By all means, it would behoove us to follow closely how our children are educated everyday at school. Hopefully, by following in our children’s paths we might learn how to overcome our own conditions of learned helplessness.
Let’s not continue to live in conditioned and helpless states, give up all hope, and put forth no effort whatsoever to change. Let’s not be like students who get homework assignments or individual class projects to complete by specific deadlines, yet keep putting it off and putting it off by finding every single excuse under the sun why they cannot do the work. Let’s not fail the class (life) for not doing the class (life) work.
Another important part of the social responsibility that educators embrace and practice in the classroom and at school everyday includes showing young people/students how to move forward by setting specific short-term and long-term goals and then making sure the students work to achieve them. At the start of each school term/semester teachers present students with a set curriculum – a set of specific goals and objectives that need to be learned in each class subject/topic by the end of the term/semester. Students take tests and exams regularly to ensure that they are learning the curriculum (academic goals). Students who do not pass the regularly administered tests/exams see that they are not working hard enough, or may need additional help. What sort of regular tests do we adults take to see if we are achieving the goals we have set? Are we even setting any goals? Or do we prefer to simply prod along the path of life from day to day…
Have we, individually or collectively as a nation, set short-term or long-term goals in the last 12 months to challenge and try to halt the fast-paced and extremely negative turn-around of what was once a productive and peaceful Belize? Let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves and living in helpless situations by looking mostly at the negatives in our lives. Let’s break free from learned helplessness by imitating our children’s educators! Let’s embrace our social and individual responsibilities and think like optimists not like pessimists, and stay motivated even in the face of our daily challenges and disappointments, instead of constantly looking for pity. Most importantly, like teachers and educators do with students, year in and year out, let us set specific short-term and long-term goals, and work to achieve them, instead of merely feeling jealous of others and sorry for ourselves when things don’t go our way.
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!