Validation in education

February 1, 2019

Since I was five years old, I took violin lessons. Like most children, I was never excited to play or practice. But every Tuesday when my parents drove me to my violin lesson, I found myself almost magically inclined to follow the directions of my teacher.

My teacher was a very soft-spoken young man. He grew up in Japan and his English was limited in many ways, but somehow that did not affect my education at all. My teacher needed very few words to demonstrate the technique he wanted me to learn or the feeling he wanted me to convey. The most severe attitude he would ever take was one of dissatisfaction, and that was always enough to drive me. He would make it abundantly clear to me when I had impressed him and it was those moments that I sought to achieve through my playing.

My violin teacher was a large reason for my fairly strict understanding of what a teacher should and should not be. My view was that a teacher should demonstrate their skill for the subject, while also being humble. A teacher should act with authority through their abilities and knowledge in the field and then motivate the student by treating them as if they are an equal. The student then finds the motivation within themselves by striving to live up to the image of them that the teacher has painted.

Given that I have been a student for the majority of my life, I have met and appreciated many teachers who show value in validating the student in the way I described. But as a result, I would always express disdain for any stricter style of teaching. It felt as if teachers who maintained a superiority complex over students and who would often invasively criticize them demonstrated that they did not respect their students, and therefore did not earn any respect back from them.

Since coming to college, I have experienced many more styles of teaching, spanning many subjects. My perception of school was shaken to its core and I found myself with some desperately needed control over my education. But as a result of branching out and trying new things, I found that different teaching styles have their own benefits and that my understanding of what a teacher should be does not necessarily represent the ideal style.

First of all, not all students respond to the soft-spoken style. Sometimes, it seems, reaching every student requires a more aggressive approach and personality, especially in larger classes. Some students might exploit soft-spokenness in order to do less work and others mistake it for a lack of knowledge. Pushing students to do their best can be just as rewarding as, and oftentimes more effective than, inspiring students in a more passive way. Ultimately, there are ways of showing respect for students that do not require a teacher to teach with humility.

Even though there are countless viable teaching styles, I would argue that the common element that is shared by almost all great ways of teaching is some form of readily achievable validation. This form of validation is more personal than giving a good grade. A teacher must always have ways of helping students go above and beyond and rewarding them with unique praise for doing so.

Often, I have seen this happen in my classes and it is wonderful even just to see it from the outside. Someone that makes a particularly potent point or answers a particularly difficult question might find that they are met with applause prompted by the professor, or might be commended for their contribution and have their idea analyzed throughout the lecture.

Classes with less frequently distributed validation have always felt more competitive as a result. When students are not given validation directly from the teacher, we find it by outdoing our peers. This is not innately a bad thing; omnipresent competition is unavoidable in education and when it is engaged in in a friendly manner it can even be quite healthy. But there are too many cases of competition causing a toxic atmosphere that surrounds a line of study. Directly validating students reduces the need to out-achieve others.

Any teaching style that is tailored to the needs of the students it teaches is justifiable. Despite this, I will always see teachers that humbly bolster students’ own ideas of what they can achieve as awe-inspiring. Being a student is an innately humbling experience, and being told you are valuable for more than the way you learn, but also for the way you create and think is nothing short of enchanting.

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