Student Achievement Opinion

Whiplash: Rethinking What It Takes to Make Greatness

By Starr Sackstein — February 02, 2015 2 min read
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The truly gifted student of any kind is exceedingly rare.

That isn’t to say that some students aren’t great or can’t achieve greatness after much diligent practice and time. As a matter of fact, even the truly gifted require patience and fortitude and a thick skin to be successful.

Rejection is a part of everyone’s life regardless of how talented he/she is.

Delicately molding young thinkers into readers and writers is a job I take pretty seriously. Hoping that any one of them will commit to their craft in a way that exemplifies genius.

With great time and support, I coach students of all levels through different activities, providing them positive feedback when improvements are made and critical feedback with strategies to develop more as writers when needed.

The way this looks is different for every child. So knowing my students well is essential to knowing how hard to push and when to back off. Even the approach of how to present the critical feedback takes time. It is never aggressive or punishing; it is ALWAYS helpful.

Whether providing written feedback on a Google document, sending a Vox to make sure the student can hear the inflections in my voice that are encouraging or meeting in person if I fear that the student, in any way can misunderstand the information I need to share with them, I work hard to make sure that each student gets exactly what he or she needs.

That is the kind of care that goes into working with young talent.

Recently I watched the award nominated movie Whiplash in utter horror. J.K. Simmons plays the intolerable Terrance Fletcher (exceptionally well) who believes that “Good Job” is a damaging phrase to talented musicians, allowing them to swim in puddles of mediocrity. Although at the heart of what he is trying to accomplish as a teacher is getting the best out of his students, he fails to understand where to draw the line.

Corporal punishment has long since been outlawed as a means of reprimanding students or in this case, helping them improve. Yet, there are people out there who believe that in order to bring out genius in a student, a teacher needs to antagonize to the point of emotional distress.

Punishment of any kind should never be associated with learning. To foster greatness, students must first identify a want and willingness to do the work.

Perhaps at first, the student doesn’t recognize that which a finely tuned teacher’s eye can see, but with the proper tutelage can grow to become something he or she never believed possible. Teachers have the power to do that.

Learning must be seen as a growth proposition that each person has complete control over. We must empower our students to develop any unique gifts he or she has and nurture them through the challenging times of stagnation.

Although the movie was well made, and the ultimate message of success shown, I worry about any portrayal of teaching methodology that treats children in an abusive manner. There are enough media displays of negative educators that don’t help the cause.

What can you do as an educator to help recognize and then foster skills in your students?

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