Teachers set the course

by Marilies Kupsch

The other day, an elementary school teacher I am friendly with showed me a letter written by a former student, which illustrates the teacher’s educational role in a moving way. It contrasts sharply with the role of the teacher as “coach” and “learning companion” planned for the future. A conversation about this girl with this teacher as well as her notes, which she had made for encouragement and parental counseling, impressed me greatly and once again proved to me how crucial the teacher’s attention, empathy and psychological knowledge are to a child’s road of life, and how much care, patience, and confidence are required for accompanying and strengthening a discouraged child and its parents. This is an essential part of the primary school teacher’s actual task, namely, as a new important caregiver besides its parents, to look at the child’s situation with a trained eye and from an emotionally greater distance than they do, as well as to introduce the child to the wider community and to support and correct it wherever necessary.
Jennifer was overprotected and pampered by her parents due to various illnesses in early childhood and a permanent susceptibility to infection. For example, she still slept in her parents’ bed at the age of nine, and, in her first few years at school, she was always brought to school or she was kept at home several days running with minor infections. Added to this was her sibling position as the youngest child with a much older brother. The consequences for the child were anxiety, lack of confidence in her own abilities, overweight, bullying by her classmates, as well as bad marks in the cultural techniques as early as in the 2nd grade. Her parents then had their child repeat the class, which was a great blessing for Jennifer, as she now had a teacher who saw her problems and tackled them.
The teacher quickly realised that Jennifer’s weaknesses in school performance were due to a profound insecurity. She approved Jennifer’s daily practice in reading, writing, and math, exercises which were in accordance with her standard of performance. By giving her credit and encouragement and talking to her often, she brought Jennifer to clearly visible successes in the course of a few weeks. At regular intervals, she advised the parents to treat their daughter as a “big child” and to put more trust in her. She recommended literature on the subject of over-indulgence, or spoiling. In addition, she advised a diet change, participation in a swimming or gymnastic course in the child’s leisure time, and cycling. Jennifer was able to recover quickly due to the close cooperation with her parents and the teacher’s firm conviction that she would learn well. Her parents implemented her teacher’s advice and were delighted with their daughter’s progress. Soon she slept in her own bed, came to school alone, became more active and “pluckier”, as well as more open and alive and slimmer. In the new class, Jennifer was not shut out by the other kids. After three years she was easily able to change to a grammar school, although she had been attested major weaknesses in the second class. Unfortunately, Jennifer fell back into an isolated position at grammar school. Her only friend moved to another city. But, strengthened by the good experience of a class and teacher change in elementary school, she made a fresh start at another high school. There she feels fine today; she is popular and standing for election as a spokeswoman for her level. The following excerpt from her letter speaks for itself:
“P. S. I and my parents always wanted to thank you for how much and how well you took care of me! How you set me up, so that I regained my self-confidence a little! And how you set me on my way to a grammar school. You are an incredibly good, strong and very admirable teacher! […] You made so much time for me at that time, all these meetings with my parents, conversations and much more! I can only thank you for my now being in the sixth form. This would never have happened if my parents had not made the decision to make me repeat the year! My mum blames herself a lot because she thinks she’s guilty for everyone bullying me, because she thinks that if she had enrolled me a year later, I would have been in your class right away, and I would never have had to suffer under the bullying by my classmates and the teacher. However, I think she is by no means to blame, I mean, how could she have known, and besides, that is exactly what made me strong! I have learned to be above such things and be self-aware, and I know I can do it.”    •
(Translation Current Concerns)