The relationship of academic achievement and self-esteem has been seen in a number of studies. These studies have become the basis of programs and strategies implemented by educators to promote healthy self-esteem in students.
Self-esteem and academic achievement have a reciprocal relationship (Marsh and O’Hara, 2008). Some would say that self-esteem might be the cause of academic achievement and those who have a positive view of themselves are focused and motivated to learn. While those with low self-esteem are afraid to take risks, and tends to avoid active participation in classroom and school activities.
On the other hand, some presupposes that academic achievement results to increased self-esteem and self-confidence. No wonder, some teachers invest so much of their time and effort to help build their students’ self esteem, while others challenge their students by raising their standards, with little regard of other circumstances affecting their students’ performance.
In my opinion, it is not an issue of which of the two strategies is better, but rather, it is more an issue of how a teacher can strike the right balance and timing in implementing the appropriate strategy in motivating his student.
Most teachers mean well if they put pressure on their students to perform well at school. But I believe that a teacher can best demand work from an above average or superior student who, for some reason, lacks the motivation, but is innately competitive. Expecting higher standards from these students is likely to lead to academic achievement, and eventually increase their self-esteem and self-confidence.
But not all students belong to this category. An “ordinary” student has an “ordinary” view of himself. He is less driven and finds competition less appealing.
He will tend to view academic pressure placed by a well-meaning teacher as an added source of anxiety. To an ordinary student who is experiencing school adjustment problems for instance, or who happens to be having personal difficulties, the increased demands from a high-driven teacher is a good excuse for him to withdraw, and worse, to drop-out of school (Flook, 2008).
Increasing the self-esteem of an under-motivated student and, working on the lack of confidence of a low achiever are two different issues. The challenge for teachers is for them to give an individualized approach in setting the standards for their students. It might be more appropriate to gear the academic pressure to those who are capable of handling the challenge. Meanwhile, they may continue to invest their time and effort in building the self-esteem of those who need it most.
Teachers play a significant role in nurturing the fragile egos of their students and improve their self-concept. It is not only their role to cultivate the intellect, but to provide emotional support and encouragement if the situation calls for it. This strategy is really a gradual process and the results are not immediately seen. But no effort is wasted for a conscientious teacher.
He can see the complete picture . He understands that a student’s poor self-concept and low motivation are results of several factors, such as family roles or relationship problems, individual traits and characteristics, among many others. Because self-perception is attributable to many variables, there is no single formula in addressing the problem of poor self-esteem and self-confidence.
An effective teacher however, can see the root cause of the problem and act on it. If it is rooted in low competence, he knows which skills to cultivate. He does not set unrealistically high standards. Better yet, he lets his students set their own standards, but he knows just how to encourage them when they fall short of meeting these standards.
Sometimes teachers choose not to accept excuses when their students perform less better than they expect. I still think it depends on the situation. Some students will benefit with a little push, and they are good to go. But pushing the wrong student too hard and at the wrong time might make the situation worse. What if the situation calls for the teacher to go out of his way to address his student’s personal difficulties and circumstances? More important than the grades and the homework are character, relationships and sense of self-worth. Are they not?
Flook, L. and Fuligni, AJ (2008). Family and School Spillover in Adolescents’ Daily Lives. Child Development Journal, 79 (3).
Marsh, H. and O’Mara, A. (2008). Reciprocal Effects Between Academic Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, Achievement, and Attainment Over Seven Adolescent Years: Unidimensional and Multidimensional Perspectives of Self-Concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (4), pp. 542-552.