GED Students Need Hope and Confidence, Not Just Skills
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine, what it must feel like to have no self esteem, no self-confidence, and no hope for yourself and for your future. Can you imagine feeling that way every day?
When many of our students come to us, they are already down on themselves and project a poor self-image. Some have made bad decisions for themselves, and have been told over and over again by parents, bosses, friends, family, probation officers, teachers and others that they have ruined their lives and “really messed up.” They have been told they will never amount to anything. Many of them have no positive role models or anyone in their lives to encourage them.
Three years ago I was hired to join a GED teaching team. I would teach English and literature while the other two teachers taught math, science, and social studies. I had worked with mostly intermediate students up to this point in my 24 year teaching career, and I thought I had seen and heard everything. However, I was in for a big surprise, and I was about to experience the most rewarding teaching job I have ever had.
The students slowly filed in class that first day of school in August. Like all students, they were apprehensive about returning to school. There weren’t many smiles that first morning as many of them had only been in traditional classrooms where they had not experienced feelings of accomplishment or success. They had now made the decision to return to school by enrolling in a GED program. Wanting to make sure they had not made another bad decision, they sized us up with scared eyes, nervous laughter, well-guarded attitudes, and slightly defensive tones in their voices. They listened intently, but skeptically, as they weren’t sure they could trust us just yet and wanted to make sure we were for real. They filled out registration forms and tended carefully to other tedious first day of school chores.
As time passed and I learned more and more about each student, I discovered that for some of them daily attendance in class was difficult. They would come when they could which sometimes was two or three days a week. Sometimes when they came, they could barely stay awake as they had worked late the night before or spent the night caring for their crying or sick child. They wanted to get their education and complete their GED, but their choices had dealt them a hard life. Often they came to class, they immediately fell asleep from exhaustion.
As I came to understand them more and feel more compassion for them, my expectations for them still remained high, but I learned to adjust the way I paced my lessons and goals for each individual student and each day. When they could work hard, ready to tackle a concept, we would forge ahead with great stride. The individual help they received from the teaching team seemed to be the attention they wanted the most.
When we would work with them and encourage them, it seemed to sustain them for the next day or maybe even the next week. Just a few words of kindness had such a long lasting effect in their minds. “I knew you could do it,” “You did a great job today,” “We missed you yesterday, but we’re glad you are hear today,” “Thanks for working so hard today,” “You have accomplished so much, keep up the good work.” For some it had been a long time since they had heard words of encouragement, kindness and praise and, sadly, some have never heard those words before.
However, for many, they had never heard the powerful endearing words, “I am proud of you.” Such simple words really, but enough to catapult those young lives into a life of success, a life that has a future, and most of all a life that is finally filled with hope. They now had someone who was really proud of them, and they in turn could truly be proud of themselves.
Although this is the most rewarding teaching job I have ever had, it isn’t about me. It’s about the students who come to us without plans, without goals, without futures. It’s about helping them make progress educationally and about giving hope to those who need it the most. It’s about helping students become successful and productive. It’s about giving them dreams for their life and future. It’s about building self-esteem, self-confidence and about having someone in your life who knows YOU CAN DO IT.
About the Author
Deborah A. Mulvany is currently a GED teacher in Pasadena ISD at Tegeler. This is her third year in this position, and she has found it to be one of the most rewarding jobs of her career. Her Bachelor of Science Degree is from Wichita State University, Kansas. She has been a teacher for 26 years and has taught in five different states: Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi and Texas.