I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a chid’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.-Dr. Haim Ginott
This quote, from Ginott’s 1976 book Teacher and Child, is posted on many classroom walls and school entryways. There are some immediately obvious reasons for its popularity, and some other reasons that may take longer to uncover.
The most basic idea here is respect, starting with self-respect. You must respect yourself to accept that your actions have an effect on others. You must respect yourself to really know that others listen when you speak. As a teacher, you must also extend that respect to your students and consider their full humanity (“humanize or de-humanize”) in the rules you make and the ways you respond to them.
Ultimately, I think the beauty of Ginott’s quote is the acceptance that — in the words of Peter Parker — with great power comes great responsibility. A strong teacher takes responsibility for their effect on students’ mood, behavior, and learning. When the teacher is willing to think about how they are affecting their students — really reflect, and then adjust instruction as appropriate — how can a class not succeed?
Simultaneously, we can’t forget that the teacher is always modeling positive, responsible behavior for her students. So, along with their coursework, students in this teacher’s class learn to self-reflect; to be responsible for their actions and aware of their effects on the whole group. This teacher might use small group instruction regularly to reinforce these ideas. Classroom norms, rules, and expectations would also reflect a sense of shared responsibility: ‘we sink or swim together.’ The teacher might bring in SEL themes about the power of choice (“I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal”) to reinforce students’ awareness that their choices are important.
I’d like to close with two final reflections on the quote:
- Teachers must respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect students and others around them.
- Students should learn to respect themselves enough to notice and reflect on how their choices affect everyone around them.