Randy Pausch: On Loving the Teachers who Don’t Give Up on Us (and Are you Ruining My Child’s Self Esteem?)

“Experience is what you get is when you didn’t get what you want…We send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is… for indirect learning..we don’t actually want them to learn football… We send our kids out to learn much more important things; teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etc. etc.” –Randy Pausch

Dear Parents,

This inspirational video is of Randy Pausch giving his last lecture. The full YouTube version is posted here– and well worth the view– but here’s is a shortened version (10 minutes) that played on Oprah for your convenience. In the spirit of Gratitude Month and Teacher Appreciation Week at all our Powerful Words family schools, it seemed fitting to post something about the teachers and role models who push us and never give up on us even when we’re ready to give up on ourselves.

Aren’t you ruining my child’s self esteem?

By Dr. Robyn Silverman

Mrs. Phillips came to talk to me while her son, Patrick, age 8, was in class. “Patrick was upset the other day because his teacher corrected him three times on one of his skills. When you tell him he’s doing something wrong, aren’t you ruining his self esteem?”

This story came to mind today when I was watching a video of the inspirational “last lecture” of Randy Pausch, who’ll likely die of liver cancer within the next few months. I love watching videos like these because they shine such a bright light on learning and put a fire in my belly. In fact, they make me feel like running to the helm of a ship and yelling “I’m the king of the world!”

Anyway, Professor Pausch said; “when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up…your critics are the ones who still love you and know you can.” Boy, do I agree with that–although, it’s not always easy to experience criticism and it can be excruciating to watch someone we love being critiqued.

I’ll let you in on a little secret–I wrote an article on my own experience with this phenomenon. At Tufts, my advisor was known to be the toughest in my department. My dissertation was often filled with red marks and comments like “no!” “wrong!” and “don’t say this” throughout it’s 150 pages. While I’m not recommending my advisor’s blunt delivery, I appreciate his persistent pushing. Would he be helping me by giving me a disingenuous pat on the back? Certainly not.

Interestingly, after I was awarded my doctorate, he did say something to me that I’ll never forget; “I was hard on you because I always knew you could do better. And you did. In fact you did so well that you became one of the very best.” I felt as though I had destroyed every brick wall placed in front of me and I was ready to take on the world.

So, what about the claim Mrs. Phillips made about her child’s self esteem? While too much criticism in the absence of praise can be detrimental, too much praise in the absence of critique is just as damaging.

Feelings of self worth, esteem, and gratification come from overcoming challenges. They derive from hard work, perseverance, self discipline, and self reliance. They don’t come from simply being the best but rather, doing one’s personal best and raising the bar higher every time we approach a skill. These feelings don’t come from our teachers and parents telling us we’re doing well when we aren’t or telling us we’re doing “the best” when we’re not putting in “our best.” They come from when others, whose opinions we value, tell us that they know we can do better and then notice it when we do.

In the end, we gain self esteem when we break through brick walls when even we wondered if we could.

As parents, while it may be difficult to watch out children be critiqued, it is a gift to find teachers who care enough to push them and see to it that they reach their potential. It’s this experience that they can take away from their Powerful Words family school and apply it to everything they do.

Nobody ever feels satisfied while leaning against a brick wall that blocks their dream as their superheroes yell “at-a-boy!” But I’ve certainly felt the rush of achievement when I’ve barreled through brick walls, bruises and all, with my mentors and loved ones nodding their heads saying, “we knew you could do better. And you did.”

Here’s to you– for seeking out teachers who inspire your children to live out their dreams,

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2 Responses

  1. […] Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor whose last lecture on following your childhood dreams became an Internet hit and bestselling book, has died of […]

  2. […] we do) like all-too-early deaths of actor John Ritter or Heath Ledger and the very recent death of Randy Pausch get us to jump to attention and ask ourselves, “Is this what I should be doing? Could I spend my […]

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