I was four years and two months old when I started kindergarten. My fine motor skills reflected my age, and I experienced the daily challenge of trying desperately to tie bows in my shoelaces instead of the usual knots. My mother had assured me that my teacher would come to my aid if I would but say, "Please tie my shoe!" This, mom thought, would relieve me of any potential frustration and enable me to change shoes throughout the school day to safely engage in the required skipping, running, jumping, and hopping.
My mother was unaware of the challenges faced by her young child in a culturally different classroom. Little did she know that my words lacked power, that in class they fell upon a deaf ear. Whenever I asked for help, the teacher ignored me-clearly had no regard for me. I often wondered if she could see me or if I was invisible to her. As I reluctantly tread upon frayed laces, it probably appeared that I was unconcerned that my laces were being destroyed. After observing the teacher stoop to tie other children's laces, I concluded that she did not like me. I transferred this attitude to other areas of my classroom life, limiting my capabilities and understanding that I was powerless and of little or no value to my teacher.
Fifty years have passed, and I often reflect on the experiences that have molded me. Acknowledging that I formed negative opinions, made unsound decisions, and acted out unresolved issues as a young learner, I realize the impact that a teacher's attitude toward students has on their lives. The importance of creating a classroom environment that offers positive learning experiences for each and every student should not be undermined. The decisions we make and the courses of action we take are based on our consciously and unconsciously held beliefs, attitudes, and values.
As our nation becomes increasingly pluralistic, teachers must bear in mind that every student is entitled to quality education and provide learning experiences that reflect the diversity that exists in the classroom. Educators are challenged by the responsibility of providing an environment in which all students can reach their full potential so that they are in control of their lives and thereby become empowered (Baker, 1994).
Studies reveal that students learn best when they are properly treated and respected by teachers and administrators (Achilles & Smith, 1994). Students also need to know that they are valued by their peers. Those who have not felt valued have in many cases resorted to violence.
It is difficult for students to realize their worth when their opinions seem unimportant. Students are human and, because they are perceptive, can detect one's true feelings. They know when someone cares about them and when one doesn'tjust as adults know.
As educators, we have the ability to destroy students or empower them. Those students who are valued by teachers and classmates will naturally feel good about learning while those who are devalued of ten find ways of striking back. The intensity of the strike depends on the intensity of the hurt. …