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TEACHERS CAN GIVE CHILDREN DEFENSE AGAINST LIFE’S KNOCKS

SHARE TEACHERS CAN GIVE CHILDREN DEFENSE AGAINST LIFE’S KNOCKS

You read about it or hear about it every now and again: the individual who, against all odds, succeeds.

Put him in a dysfunctional home and he rises above it. Throw him into a neighborhood with friends who fail at life and he refuses to let life defeat him.The Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, which serves Utah and other Western states as a research resource, looked at children who succeed despite unfavorable circumstances. Researchers came to the conclusion that resilience is the quality that lets some kids bounce over the bumps and land on their feet.

They concluded further that some children seem naturally more resilient than others but that all children can develop the positive inner resources that offset negative outside influences.

The key that activates those inner resources (or helps to implant them if they are not obvious) often is a teacher.

The Far West report goes on to say, however, that such a common-sense observation doesn't always lead to common classroom practice. Teachers may contribute to the child's challenge by identifying him as a problem and treating him that way.

The study focuses in part on a child named Tyrone, who had all the makings of defeat. Large for his age, active and inquisitive, he demands the teacher's attention. She is resentful, has already labeled him a "difficult child" and has concluded in advance that his home situation in a drug- and welfare-burdened housing project automatically portends failure.

So she treats him that way. When several children in the room have runny noses, it is Tyrone who is singled out in an irritated tone to get a tissue and take care of the situation. His queries during a play activity (Why DIDN'T the old lady who swallowed a fly spit it out?) are rebuffed to the point that he quits asking questions. The teacher's put-downs relegate Tyrone to second-class status in the minds of his classmates.

The pattern set in kindergarten may ultimately squelch Tyrone's natural resilience unless someone who believes in him comes along to salvage his positive qualities, the study suggests.

On the other side of the scale is Carrie, an equally troubled child who lives in poverty with a mother who is ill. Her teacher, however, has identified particular strengths in Carrie's makeup and she plays to those strengths. For instance, she makes time for Carrie to read on her own, an activity she enjoys.

From the teacher's viewpoint, with 20 to 30 children to nurture and educate, dealing individually with the needs of each one is a significant challenge.

To expect that she become a "protective buffer" for the troubled child - that one positive contact that might foster his inborn resiliency - is asking a lot.

But when it happens - and it does - the results are worth any effort. One little Carrie is worth whatever it takes. And so is a little Tyrone. Society should be grateful to those teachers who recognize each child as being "in a class by himself" even while he's in a class with others.