Can I keep my mouth shut? Of course not ... and so I wrote the following letter-to-the-editor of the local paper yesterday:
"GOOD JOOOOOOB!" ... NOT
When my kids were little, one of the schoolyard activities that used to drive me nuts was the careless and disrespectful encouragement offered by some teachers, coaches and monitors: "Good jooooob!" This apparent praise was frequently offered in a sing-songy, Mr.-Rogers tone as if the poor darlings were not equipped for any other instruction.
As it seemed to me, some instructors grew addicted to their own approbation and encouragement as if, but constantly saying "good joooooob!" they themselves were doing a good job. Well, from my point of view, the repetitive use of the expression showed little more than an unwillingness or inability to give more concrete and informative instruction.
Don't get me wrong. I love kids and think they deserve to be praised. But I also think that what is good can always be better and the best instructors I have had in life were the ones who took the time and energy to point this out. When everything is a "good jooooob," the chances for anything to be a good job are sharply diminished. And the kids know it.
It is in this regard that I take my hat off to Betsy Dinger, interim principal of Amherst Regional Middle School, who took some time recently (Gazette, 11/15/12) to outline to seventh-graders the need for persistence and focus and time with their school work.
She couched the encouragements in terms of "success," but the baseline argument struck me as more interesting than that -- more respectful and honest: Everyone is dumb to one extent or another, just as everyone is smart. But dumb and smart can both benefit from improvement, from taking the next step, from not basking in some mindless "good joooooob" but rather in using whatever tools are in hand (smart or dumb) to widen and sharpen the understandings that an educational setting can offer.
In professional baseball, a player who bats .300 is considered to be a very good batter indeed. "Good joooooob!" But, as I used to tell my bat-swinging kids when they grew depressed after striking out, the very best batters -- the ones hitting .300 -- are the same batters who fail to hit the ball two-thirds of the time.
Will kids strike out? Sure. Will they get a hit? Sure. And is there a need for improvement either way? Sure. But let's dial back the applause meter a little and encourage the courage and persistence it takes to put one foot in front of the other.