When I was in school, and in the first decade of my teaching career, teachers were all about praise. We were told that self-esteem was paramount. We were told to build students up so they would want to succeed. This felt good, to receive and to give. I love telling students when they are doing awesome things. I love showing the class the best essay, or photo, or article. I see how it affects the student and how proud they are.
In the past few years, however, praise has come under fire. Articles like this one (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smart-moves/201411/the-problem-praise) explain how praise can do a lot of damage. Saying “You’re so smart” can backfire, causing students to avoid hard tasks that threaten their “so smart” identity because they worry about failure. Praising effort, saying “You obviously worked so hard on that,” has the desired effect. Students learn that their effort leads to success, and become motivated to work harder at increasing challenging tasks.
But sometimes, effort is hard for a teacher to see. If an essay was written entirely outside of class, how can a teacher know how long a student spent on it? Maybe the student toiled for hours, and the paper still merits a C. Maybe the student wrote it the period before and knocks it out of the park. The teacher is left only with the ability to praise the final product. The student is left to draw his own conclusions about the praise given.
Here’s where my yoga teacher comes back in. When I start getting upset by his lack of praise, I remind myself that I’m doing it for me. Only I can know how hard I have been working. Only I can feel the slight improvement in a pose, the deeper stretch, the stronger arm balance. No one else lives in my body, in my mind. And I’m not in competition with anyone but me. I’m not doing yoga for him, or for the other people in my class. I’m practicing yoga for me and it’s up to me to motivate myself.
Good job, Evva.