What should one teach kids?

When I first began teaching, I knew I had to teach my students English. It was what I had been hired to do after all. The details of how were left up to me. I could have proceeded by explaining the rules and helping them apply the rules, expanding their vocabulary, and conversational ability, repeating and testing until their grasp grew stronger. I might very well have succeeded in such a method, depending on my ability and my students’ responsiveness.

Two details complicated the situation though. Yes, I had been hired to teach, but more importantly to represent my country and culture. And secondly, I had all these amazing little Japanese faces peering at me, hanging on my every word and movement, like I was a movie star, an alien, or an alien movie star. How could I not feel, and desire to do more and be more than just an English teacher?

In my attempt to be more, I realized that students will grow excited when they hope that something interesting will happen that they can view or be directly involved with. The students saw me as a wild card, as an individual who was uniquely interesting in part by the nature of being American, tall, a confident force, spontaneous, and a good sport for their curiosity, tugging, and spirited play. I held their attention, livened up classes, represented a tangible reason for studying English and in effect, opened a door of possibility and a world foreign and wonderful.

I hold no vain belief that it was all my own doing. I was a symbol in many ways, and used it to my advantage to motivate and connect to them, all the while teaching them English almost as a byproduct. In was in the moments I wasn’t being a teacher that I saw the effects I had. I could walk into a class and students that were normally slouched and heavy lidded, were on the edge of their seats, eagerly talking to their neighbor and waited to slap fives with me. Students who were bad in every other subject, were good in English. At festivals, in the grocery store, walking through the hallways during cleaning time, or on the train students went out of their way to come talk to me, or sit with me, or show me what they had in their pockets, even if they hadn’t learned enough English to say more than a simple greeting.

My students hoped something good, something positive would happen when I was around, and as a result they were engaged.

What should we teach kids? We should teach them to have hope for their future.

We do not have to look far to realize that kids (and adults too) need hope almost as much as they need their daily vitamins and minerals. Children with hope for their future—the belief that something good will happen to them today, or in the near future—live more productive, more well rounded, happier lives.

I could give numerous concrete examples and studies that prove the point. I will give one. After the Tsunami that wrecked havoc in Southeast Asia, many children from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia were interviewed about their thoughts and feelings on the future . Of all of them, the children of Indonesia most feared another tsunami would occur. Those children also reported the most loneliness and boredom occurring during playtime, a time when they were supposed to be so involved with fun that nothing should trouble their minds. In India, 58% of children said they cannot spend as much time with people as before the tsunami. In Sri Lanka, 52% of the children can no longer participate in activities on the beach because they are afraid. The study by UNICEF suggests that fear has stolen their hope, hope, which is the key for them to enjoy life and communicate with others, and their ability to participate in normal activities.

Look at your own children. How do they respond when a birthday, or Christmas is coming up? How do they respond when dinner is approaching or when you tell them that if they are good, they can have a surprise? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning and think about seeing that guy that just kissed you last night, that just told you he loved you? How do you feel when you find out you are pregnant, or got the job promotion or closed on the house? Hope exhilarates. It is a reason for waking up and persisting.

Do not underestimate the power you have in giving your child hope. How you respond to their aspirations, their dreams, their experiences will give them security or fear. Your words and actions will give them confidence and encouragement, or not.

Hope can be given, and it can be taken away.

© Seth Crossman