Teachers have the potential to play a major role in the area of adolescent development

I will attempt to look at this under Self-esteem and Identity. Often the case is that a child hates school and teachers as these two can cause a huge burden on their lives. They can seriously affect the development in personality and self-esteem in a negative or positive way. The successful teacher will affect these in a positive way and therefore education will occur with greater ease. It is important to be totally aware of the issues raised under these topics before going into a teaching experience.

The Art teacher is in the best position of all teachers as regarding these issues. It is in the art room where personalities will come out and pupils will feel most relaxed due to the nature of the subject. Self-esteem can affect behaviour and performance in the classroom. Pupils with high self-esteem may be dominate class discussions as they have strong views on topics and are confident in their opinions. They can also be so confident that they could begin to show off and act-up in front of their peers. This can cause disruptions for the teacher. This is only in extreme cases.

The opposite is the pupil with low self-esteem. They will be less involved in what is going on in the class and feel self-conscious when asked questions. Stanley Coopersmith carried out a major investigation into the development of self-esteem in 19671. He broke it down into High self-esteem, medium and low. He found that high self-esteem boys were more positive and realistic in their views of themselves as member of society and were happy about their abilities. Criticism did not affect them much and they were successful both academically and socially.

Medium self-esteem boys were a little more anxious about peer acceptance and are less sure of their place in society. He found low self-esteem boys to be ‘isolated, fearful, reluctant to join in, self conscious and over-sensitive to criticism’2. They are also seen to underachieve in school due to the low goals they set themselves. Coopersmith found a close relationship between the level of self-esteem and the child’s relationship with their parents. The high self-esteem boys came from a nurturing home where they were integrated in a family life, care for and give a feeling of self-importance.

They were most likely to be involved in decision-making and they opinion were probably given attention. ‘Their methods of discipline were less erratic’ and ‘relied instead on rewards for good behaviour and upon withdrawal of approval for bad’3. These parents had a close relationship with their children and were actively involved in their lives having contact with their friends and knowing what they were interested in. Physical affection was also a big part of the relationships given the child a feeling of belonging.

The dim contrast of this parent-child relationship is that of the child with low self-esteem with its parents. Open-mindedness as regards what a child should and shouldn’t do, left these children with no sense of boundaries. Whereas over-strictness left them feeling like they need to break out of this trapped world. Very strict parents are often unaffectionate and distant from their children. They can also give off a feeling of superiority making their children feel unimportant and in turn having little self-worth.

These children quickly develop low self-esteem, which affects their school life. These children are often confused for children who are less intelligent, which is in fact wrong. They will tend to do one of two things: either set themselves low goals or very high goals, which they will never achieve. They will find it difficult to take criticism and are continuously starved of approval for their parents and teachers. If a child worth low self-esteem is treated the same in school as in the home they will only become worse. The teacher has just as much if not more impact on a child’s esteem.

A good teacher will be aware of these affects on children in their class and aim to prevent these feelings from arising and perhaps repair damage that has occurred at home by building a child’s esteem. Self-esteem has a direct effect on a child’s confidence. This will play a major role in the art-room. At the age of 12-15 adolescents of concerned with true representations of the object they are drawing or painting in art. This is a hard thing to do and no matter what a child will not be happy with what they have produced.

Avoiding representational work at times and encouraging abstract work can overcome this. This can be more beneficial and could be as simple as breaking things down to their basic elements such as line or shape or colour, etc. The teacher also needs to set their pupils realistic standards, which are achievable to them. ‘Encourage them to be undaunted by failure, and urge them to have the confidence to act independently and responsibly when occasion arises’4. I found when teaching this year the boys in my class were unable to make decisions for themselves.

They would constantly ask what they need to do next and needed to be told what to do step by step. They could not make their own decisions even if they knew what they had to do. A good teacher will always watch out for children who are unsure or negative towards their own successes. It will be clear that the teacher’s opinion and the subject in question are of any value to the pupil. They also need to draw attention to successes and not failures by turning negatives into positives. Every pupils needs to be aware of their own potential and abilities and it is solely up to the teacher to raise this awareness.

The teacher is also responsible to stimulate interest and involvement in what is being studied. If the teacher is bored the pupils will be too. The key to successful production in the classroom I have found is to be clear in instructions and know yourself what you want done. If you are unsure the pupils won’t have a clue. ‘The knowing area has to do with the facts, techniques, strategies and patterns of thinking involved in mastering subject knowledge, while the being area has to do with the way in which individuals experience their own lives’5.

That is the knowing is the area that leads to qualifications however the being area is just as important. Schools tend to focus on the knowing but I believe that if they nurtured the being area also this would improve the child all round. This is linked with self-identity. ‘Self-identity is really the sum total of the concepts individuals have about themselves’6. The search for the self-identity involves a lot of experimentation by the child where they look at different models and personality types. They search for someone they want to be like and study and imitate that person for a short while.

I remember I want to write exactly like a girl in my class in second year in school. I borrowed her copy for a weekend to take class notes I had missed and spent the whole weekend studying her handwriting. I never got it and got bored after a while. Erikson wrote extensively on Identity. In 1968 he stated that ‘An optimal sense of Identity …. is experienced merely as a sense of psychological well-being. It’s almost obvious concomitants are a feeling of being at home in one’s body, a sense of ‘knowing where one is going’ and an inner assuredness of anticipated recognition from those who count’7.

Adolescents find it hard to feel at home in their bodies because they are changing constantly. They experience growth spurts and puberty leaving them feeling like they are in whole new body they don’t know. They will constantly check their appearances and wonder what they look like to other people. There are other factors which arise in adolescence that cause confusion such as: an increase in independence; the formal operational stage begins (Piaget); they begin dealing with moral issues; and the move from primary to secondary school leaves back at the bottom after being at the top in primary school.

It is Erikon’s concept of Identity, which helps us to understand what is happening psychologically to adolescents. ‘Identity becomes disrupted in early adolescence, gradually reintegrated during mid-adolescence and stabilises in late’8. The growth spurt can be quiet dramatic as the skeleton, muscles, internal organs, and reproductive system are growing and the neural tissue stops growing9. The formal operations stage is the final stage in Piaget’s developmental programme. It resembles adult thinking more so than the child rational.

It sees the adolescent more able to follow arguments and being able to see how things change under given circumstances. This could allow for more discussion type classes when beginning projects in the art room. Also pupils may benefit from ‘If you did this what would happen? ‘ type situations. Adolescents will often keep a diary in order to aid them in working out who they are and to reassure themselves about their identity. Increases in energy due to the biological change will find them often awkward and clumsy. ‘Physical growth tends to be rapid and uneven.

The average child will grow two – four inches per year and gain eight – ten pounds per year. Hands and feet will grow faster than other parts’10 Dusek stated in 1991 that girls growth spurt will begin around ten and a half, reach it’s peak around twelve and be complete by fourteen. In 1998 I went to America for the summer and when I returned after three months my youngest brother who was thirteen had grown about a foot. When I left he was smaller than me and when I came home he was taller. He became very clumsy and uncoordinated.

They will clarify their identity by interacting with other people and engaging in endless conversations, hence the huge phone bills parents have to pay. I remember being out with my friends for maybe three hours each night and then I would speak to one of them for at least an hour when I came in or even before I went out! They will also become very interested in scientific, philosophical, artistic, political, and social issues11. This is where discussion based research may prove to gain interest and help develop healthy opinions. Diversity in themes for projects will also feed into this. A negative identity can destroy a teenager.

In establishing a negative identity we can see: a defiant or destructive behaviour; too much emphasis put on success leading to deliberate failure; and if a pupil is labelled a “failure”, “delinquent”, “punk”, “loser” or “slacker” they may decide to become what is expected of them12. Excessive punishment from parents and teachers will not help these factors. Teachers need to encourage individual differences and should give positive feedback, which should always outweigh the negative. This can be seen in the art room where one child may be wonderful at drawing but unable to create something three-dimensional.

Pupils need to understand their strengths and should be encouraged to play on them. Teachers should be patient with disruptive behaviour as be may be a result of negative identity. One should try giving responsibilities and assignments that will be positive and constructive. Do not confirm the troublemaker to be the troublemaker. Assigning responsibilities is very effective. I had a hard time getting my pupils to clean up at the end of class because they would say they hadn’t made the mess in the first place! So I assigned jobs to each person and the cleaning got done.

Misbehaviour in secondary school could very well be linked with the negative identity. These children have: failed to make clear occupational choices; are confused about gender roles; or do not experience acceptance “by those who count”13. Last Monday I noticed a pupils in my class who was normally a bit disruptive was very interested in talking to me. He wanted to know did I always know I wanted to be a teacher to which I replied no I wanted to be an accountant. He continued to ask where I lived, was it in a house or a flat, what car do I drive and what music do I like.

I felt I should answer him as honestly as possible without giving specific details because if I responded in a negative way he would be disappointed and he was on his best behaviour yet. Although adolescents may seem unimpressed now by parents and teachers, the support and good opinion is still vital to their development. Teachers need to bring to the classroom a range of personal interests and enthusiasms. They need to remain aware of the formation of the identity and the self-esteem of the children in their class.

Children should not be labelled and when I go to schools and I’m told to watch out for certain children’s behaviour I usually ignore it and treat everyone the same. I can understand how teachers can get fed up after a number of years but one need to remember these factors I have discussed and constantly review them in order to help the adolescents get through this difficult period in their lives and maybe even make it a positive experience. It is important to keep in mind that Identity is: Accepting one’s body, having goals, and getting recognition.