Monday 28 November 2011

Encouragement as opposed to giving a false sense of self-worth

Being a teacher and a human being with an acute sense of observation, some points just cannot be missed. Increasingly, in my profession I have observed fellow colleagues who for gaining popularity and fan-fare feed the students with a false sense of self-worth in the form of encouragement. This led me to look into the nuances of encouraging an individual. How does one define encouragement?

Instead of looking at the meaning, I thought I will look into some of the synonyms of the word encouragement: boost, goad, spur, instigate and so on. Well, all the listed synonyms give a sense of pushing the individual to perform to the utmost of their abilities. But there is a catch here, sometimes there is a fine line that divided words of encouragement and empty words which instill a sense of false self-worth. If a student x is lazy and not focussed, I could encourage x to dig deep into herself and bring out her true qualities. But I could also do something else: I could attribute the feeling that inspite of not doing well, x is the best. By doing the second, I would lead x to believe that x is the best, inspite of knowing that x is not.

Well, sometimes in the pretext of encouraging a student, one should not attempt to destroy the knowledge that a student has limitations. Limitations are part of every individual and overcoming those limitations and moving ahead is a challenge everyone faces on a day-to-day basis. But to feed thoughts into a student's head that says that there are no limitation, leads to a very fatal outcome.

A teacher's greatest killjoy is when a student challenges the teacher that she/he is not respecting the student's worth. A teacher/individual ought to respect each person for what he/she is and strive to encourage in order to stimulate the students but sometimes this encouragement is done in several neagative ways by some individuals, who are gradually engaging in instilling a false sense of self-worth in a student. And I for one, cannot tolerate empty words of false self-worth.

What are your thoughts on this subject? I hope you get what I mean.

Image: Internet


  1. when teaching turns into a popularity contest between faculty- you get these kind of things. sometimes you even see this kind of encouragement taking place because of narrow mindset involving caste/religion. the harm that is done is only realized years later when the student gets into the real world and learns the harsh lessons of life. but by then - sometimes it may be too late and some young lives are bound to suffer. i have personally had teachers who played to the gallery- rubbishing down the very educational system they were a part of and inciting the students to rebel with the safe knowledge that their part in it would never be exposed. the poor students ended up bearing the brunt of it. one of the most conscienceless acts is to be responsible for leading young minds astray.and such deeds will never go unpunished.


    1. How can we be sure that our ethical values are correct?

    2. Can anybody judge other's moral position?

    3. Isn't 'encouragement' a word for one's intellectual superiority over other?

  3. Ganesh:

    You're right is saying what you have said. Teachers fall into these booby traps very easily. A teacher should help nurture the student's personality. All said and done, how far can we go to tag a teacher so? No one will accept that anyway.


    Welcome here. Thanks for coming here and writing a comment.

    1. Someethical values are universally acknowledged and hence one knows that it is correct.

    2. Of course we can analyse the moral position of the others. We cannot judge but we can deflinitely analyse.

    3. I don't think so. It is definitely not a word for intellectual superiority. Just take this example: Maybe your father is suffering from debt. As his son, you encourage him and tell him, "Don't worry, it will be fine." This does not mean that you are intellectually superior. It just means that you are able to understand the person's position and helping hime to come out of the sadness caused by the debt. Maybe you are intellectually superior than your father but that does not matter.
    Many times people who help in our house have comforted and encouraged me. It does not prove your point.

    So, my answer to the 3rd question is NO.

  4. A teacher is supposed to guide the student to get the best out of them and make them aware about deficiencies to improve upon. Very nice post!

  5. Susan, I notice that in schools more than encouraging the students they are demoralizing them, saying they are dull brains, they cannot ask questions if they can't find the answer for themselves...etc. No student is born with a high IQ, I feel the teachers need to encourage the students more in terms of increasing their morale.

  6. Hi Susan .. not being a teacher or having kids .. I'd just wish that we'd actually encourage everyone to try everything - it'll bring confidence, they'll learn something from the experience .. and there's always, always a positive -

    I guess bring some examples in .. of leaders who have failed at many things before finding their success or happiness with the place they're at.

    We're not all the same - but we can be happy .. be compassionate and considerate to all ..

    Good luck to you and all teachers - Hilary

  7. A very thought provoking subject my dear Susan.;)
    I am partly a teacher in our lab, introducing students to different methods and techniques.
    I try to praise when praise is valid and adequate. I guess I am always honest. One can encourage a student in a mild way, without being false and misleading. We all need to hear from time to time that we are dong well, as that inspires us to do better. It is always in my opinion important to offer constructive critique if such is needed, but also offer praise when such is needed too. Usually, in my experience, students always know if they are good or not and they need not to be praised in abundance when they are excelling - as with anything else, too much praise looses its effect.;)
    Hope you are having a great Monday dear friend,

  8. I grew up in an insanely critical environment,both at home and at school(one among the supposedly top 10 schools in the country)(which brings me the new fad of rating schools like B schools,but that's an another story).I still feel the after effects of all those I am quite unable to identify with something like 'too much praise'...

    An American teacher,Jane Elliott conducted an interesting experiment called the blue/brown-eyed” exercise,do have a look at it.I pretty much agree with its results,that positive/negative feedback loops have the capability to become self fulfilling prophecies.

  9. Interesting post. I'm not a teacher, but I don't think anyone should be praised if they are not deserving of it. But maybe a child who has problems can benefit from being encouraged for whatever it is they do well or at least for putting in the effort. Everyone needs positive feedback sometimes in order to build confidence

  10. ugh tough subject for me as my son has the worst teacher right now...she has twice falsely accused him of not doing his work and the students hate her for her devious ways...but she has tenure and seems immune to the system...

  11. I think we teachers/trainers need to tread a very fine line between encouragement to keep students motivated and giving honest feedback with practical ways to improve. Great food for thought, as always, Susan.

  12. As a coach my role is to encourage and to make my client believe in both themselves and what's possible. But it is also part of my role to help them discover weaknesses or areas that need development, and help them plan the way toi make these improvements. Everyone should be inspired by us 'teachers' but not taken to a land of make believe.

  13. I totally understand what you are saying! My students see right through the false statements. What matters to them is that I see them as individuals and that includes seeing where they can improve.

  14. u got me thinking here - yes, everybody has limitations but would encouragement do them harm? I mean encouragement in its pure form and not just telling them they are doing the best!

  15. I believe it is important to continually encourage others to strive to do their best, but I think the sense of false self-worth comes into play when one feels they are so much better than others and have not learned the nack of humbling themselves. Each of us need to be aware of our limitations within ourselves. Pull on our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses.

  16. I think it's a difficult job to attain that fine balance of praising when praise is due, encouraging when one is in need of a boost, and constructively criticising when one is over-confident.

    I've been lucky to have always had extremely good teachers who've been honest with me and at the same time, kind enough to acknowledge my efforts most of the time.

    Especially when one is young, the appreciation given by a teacher can mean a lot. Similarly words of reproach hurt more.

    But I think when students are old enough to go to college, they are also mature enough to not accept false flattering words used only to patronise, and receive in the correct spirit well-meant criticism meant to advise and guide.

    Those who cannot still have some growing up to do.

    Atleast for me, whenever any professor points out a fault in my reasoning or clinical assessment I have to be gracious about it, because I know they wouldnt be doing it if they didnt expect me to improve.

    I think you're that kind of a teacher, Susan. And I'm very proud of you. :)

  17. This is a really true blog. I found myself agreeing with what you said 100%. False encouragement will hinder a student more than excel them. Providing false self-worth doesn't help anyone, but helping them exceeds the limitations life provides for them gives them the self-confidence they need for life.


  18. Interesting! I like you teacher student posts because- I connect to them like a student.

    Back in school, I was horrible at studies. Not that I couldn't- I just didn't. There was this teacher who once wrote- she can do so much better in my report card. I never had the will to. But after that statement from her along with few other things, gave a reason I did well.

    Encouragement is the only thing kids look for, there are no limitations honestly for a 3 yr old or a 10 year old. It is a miraculous age. :) Now if you are talking about higher education.. maybe there are limitations

  19. Susan, this is the reason why I wrote a post recently, I lost myself somewhere. I know what I am worth however when people go overboard praising, it hurts so much. I feel, too many expectations, too much of air and appreciation is harmful. One starts to live in a bubble, few who know or can judge fake, can distance themselves, but then they are considered rude. I, for instance, am considered rude when I do not reciprocate with instant admiration, I take time to judge the other person....

    I think I went on a tangent...

    With respect to children in school, encouragement is necessary, however too much of it doesn't lead anywhere and I believe kids can sense it too...

  20. True.Agree totally. A good teacher should always share with the student his strengths/weaknesses.And also suggest ways to further hone and improve on the strong aspects as also how to overcome the weaknesses.This is done through frequent review/feed back sessions. And a teacher should never go overboard with praise nor be excessively critical over mistakes!

  21. I'm totally with you, Teacher Sus. Encouragement should not mean giving unmerited praise. The classroom environment is very dynamic. Encouragement alone is not always positive. It can be injudiciously given. At times, constructive criticism is called for. Both should be given at appropriate times to have a positive effect.

  22. False praise...... almost the same a sycophancy ?
    Isn't that what is pulling our country down? (goading all the leaders/politicians that "they are the best" by a selected few who has the ulterior motive of putting their hands into the party coffers)
    A self respecting person (especially a teacher) will never do that. I know a few teachers from my school who were just that. Pulled up and corrected the kids when they were wrong, found their strong points and encouraged them on those points.
    The fact is that a kid (student) can recognise and appreciate a good teacher even at a tender age !!

  23. Hi Susan:
    Your column here is intellectually stretching my mind. That's a good thing as I like to be motivated to consider my thoughts.

    For what it's worth, here's what I think:

    There's a fine line between encouragement and as you say "giving a false sense of self worth." It can difficult to know where that line is and sometimes it can take longer then 180 days (a typical school year in the U.S.) Sometimes you can find that line sooner. What you have to know is past history. If someone has exceeded in the past and suddenly are at a stand still then you know they can do well again. You only have to find the right motivator. Point to previous experience.

    That's what I do when I see someone flailing in a storm.
    "Look, you came through this before w/hardly a scratch. What makes you think this will be any different?

    --Look to the past for future solutions.
    --Learn from the past
    --Move on to the future.

    That's the best encouragement anyone can get and anyone can give.

  24. I think encouragement encompasses so many things, not just empty praise. Pointing out strengths and weaknesses for students is important. One can encourage a student to do better, to learn something new, to build on skills. This may be a positive way to acknowledge limitations. Praise is not necessarily encouragement. It can just be flattery.

    Great post as always Susan.

  25. There has to be a balanced approach- encouragement where needed, praise where due , constructive criticism where necessary.

    A good, honest teacher will know the right amount and timing of each of the above.

  26. I think children are very wise to when adults/teachers are giving a false sense of self worth. Most people, I think, know their own limitations. They can look around and judge already whether their work is on par with everyone else's. If they know in their heart already that it isn't and a teacher tells them something is great when it isn't..the student won't trust or respect the teacher. The student will either breathe a sight of relief that they don't need to push through or they will be deflated. We all need to move through things that are difficult and truly exercise our minds. How can a person grow soulfully without knowing their limitations?

  27. I think there is a fine line between genuine encouragement and false compliments...we need to honestly encourage one another but that is hard work. I personally think that flattery does no one any favors and that it is still possible to encourage someone without resorting to it. Interesting topic as always.:)

  28. Great read Susan!!!

    "You are what your thoughts are". I totly encourage encouragement giiven to kids. But yes, when those words of motivation go against the actual facts they are really destructive. A little kid shud be encouraged to participate in whatever activities he/she feels like(without any limitation imposed by others). It is through these activities that we get to knw what all we can do well. He will discover his limitations on his own self.A teacher must push a kid wen he is down and also again show him thhat it's ok even if he has lost. Well susan, I hope I got it right what you meant and here you get it what I mean.:)
    Happy writing!!

  29. Though everyone can do with some hand-holding
    it should not be at the cost of the person forget walking
    Praise,like the salt we add to the cooking
    should be just enough as to not spoil the tasting.

    We want more teachers like you.

  30. Rahul Bhatia:

    Welcoem to the Meanderings and glad to have you join the discussion. We all know what teachers are supposed to be doing, but do teachers actually know this? Perplexed.

    Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts.


    I get what you mean. By overtly praising another student excessively, the others might get affected. Teachers are many roles built into one.

  31. Hilary:

    I hear you when you say "positive." Hilary, I just wish teachers understood the point you are making. Esp, older teachers cannot be taught all this.


    I am glad that you are with me on this. Sometimes students can be easily led into believing that they are always the best and this can damage their ability to learn.

  32. Arumugam:

    I like how you begin with your own examples and then go on to the larger picture. Maybe you belong to a system which was very different from what I am referring to.
    And, thanks for that info. I should google it and see what her experiment concludes.


    I guess this post can be for anyone who uses excessive praise as a weapon for personal benefits.

  33. Brian:

    Oh yes. The same teachers who praise excessively also tend to falsely accuse students whom they don't like. Sad.


    But the thin line is invisible for some. Great to see you here, Corinne. Have a lovely week ahead.

  34. Larry:

    Absolutely. Point taken.


    But some students don't see through and are led blind-folded. What to do?

  35. Yuvika:

    Of course. Sometimes encouragement turns into instilling a false sense of self-worth.


    Glad to read this, Mary. I wish everyone realised the truth of what you are saying.

  36. Karishma:

    Even post-graduate students cannot distinguish, Karishma. Some students like to believe that they are the best. One cannot do anything with them. They cannot be their negatives and hence it becomes difficult for the teacher and the other classmates.

    Your always warm words encourage and sustain me, dear Karishma.


    Welcome here and glad that you stopped by. I hear what you are saying and I hope that some teachers realise this.

  37. Sameera:


    I salute that teacher. In the primary classes, one can encourage and take care as the minds are being formed. But even after coming to post-graduate class, some students' minds aren't formed.


    The "bubble" is exactly what troubles me. Some kids just don't sense anything. They go overboard with their audacity into thinking that they are the best and therefore need no improvement.

  38. Ramakrishnan:

    Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts. Teachers have lot to learn these days.


    Sometimes I think we forget that teachers are also humans and thus it is common to see them possess feet of clay.
    Thanks for your words of appreciation. They are most welcome.

  39. Age:

    You should be knowing better, fellow teacher man.


    Sycophancy?!?! Maybe. But this flattery has negative effects and is not a light-hearted flattery. Even in your time, teachers were so??? I wonder.

  40. Chris:

    Thanks for your kind words. You would make a wonderful and thoughtful teacher, dear Chris. Thanks for your words of wisdom.


    The balance always tilts in the favour of the popularity seeker.

  41. Glynis:

    Children are not always wise, you see, Glynis. Sometimes the same children think that balanced teachers are not appreciating them and this does not work well with the classroom ambience.


    You will make a wonderful teacher, Colleen. Glad to see you after a long time. Hope all is well with you :)

  42. Sunny:

    What a surprise! After a long time. You are talking about "little kids" and I am faced with postgraduate "kids." I just wonder the plight of students who have teachers who feed on their egos and pose threats to the students.



    Hand holding is gradually turning 'holding the hand and teaching it to back-stab.'

    I still wonder if teaching is my calling.

  43. I should have differentiated. I think *little* children are the wisest, most intuitive little beings on the planet and that must be nurtured, imho. Older children, young adults.. well their intuition has been somewhat stifled. It seems to become quite complicated the older they get.Interesting blog, Susan!

  44. ohk, so I didn't get it totaly right.U say postgraduate students!!! It's disturbing dat a PG student still doesn't know about himself.But it's worse if such teachers exist; probably they don't know themselves n r in the wrong field.Sad!

  45. Glynis:

    You're right maybe. As young adults, I don't know what happens to the minds. Too much clutter, I reckon. Thanks for coming back, dear Glynis. Much appreciated.


    Of course, sad, Sunny. What can be done? Thanks for coming back.

  46. HAd I said that to my teacher I would have got a reply "SEE ME AFTER LUNCH" and that was the dreaded threat as after lunch its was frog jumps and then bam bam on the buttocks ..

    But I stil lrespect my teachers as they took pain for me , to teach me I am what I am because of that hard work they put in ..

    These days its all about money, dont teach in school class as then tuitions will come in handy and more money ...

    my teachers said that I was OUT-STANDING student the reason being I was always STANDING-OUt of the class


  47. Bikram:

    The outstanding joke is a very common one which used to be cracked by all of us, those days. It's funny you say "these days" because the teachers I have in mind are those who are above 60. Strange, na?



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