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The Two-Edged Sword

Fear motivates and dominates more lives than any of us would care to admit. It’s a two-edged sword. It keeps people from doing things in the first place, and it stops them from continuing what they are trying. As teachers, we often use fear both ways. We need to think seriously about this reality. We may think it is a very effective tool in discipline situations. It is. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

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The cause

In many instances, people need to be afraid, of course. It is both normal and protective. These are rational fears. The irrational ones are our concern—for they are the great inhibitors in our lives. As we talk about the fears of children, we should be sure to include ourselves in the discussion. Our inclusion may give us added understanding regarding the destructive nature of fear. There is no human being alive who is not afraid of something. If someone insists he is afraid of nothing, then we might ask whether he isn’t tremendously fearful of admitting he is afraid.

As teachers, we need to know the primary causes of fear because we cannot promote their use. Even though we know they are effective motivators, we must work around them, for they will inhibit the positive as well as elicit the negative.

There are five common causes of fear. People fear making a mistake or making a fool of themselves. People also fear authority. It may come as a surprise to know most people also have an innate fear of both peers and subordinates. Too, a great many people have a pathological desire for safety, and this prevents them from trying anything new or different. Finally, many fears come from over-motivation and under-motivation. In the case of over-motivation, nothing will be attempted unless quick success is assured, while under-motivation causes people to fear putting their ideas to the test of reality. In each of these five causes of fear, teachers have a tool to control students which can be constructive or destructive. The choice is ours. We need to be aware of this fact.

The effect

We need to teach students that every time they hold back out of irrational fear, they have lost an experience. And every time they choose to pass up taking part, they have cut the current of their life once more. Students need to learn that the “safest” people are the ones who never take part in anything out of fear. They are also the deadest. There is no doubt that whenever we allow irrational fright to prevail, we lower our self-esteem. Once we practice giving in to various fears, we find ourselves more and more mired down by resultant negativism. We need to think about this reality and help our students think about it as well—and we need to start in kindergarten.

Let us not forget: Fearful adults were almost always fearful children. Remember the kinds of warnings we learned during childhood? “If you aren’t good, Santa Claus won’t bring you anything.” Even fairy tales often threaten children with dire results if they don’t obey out of fear rather than healthy reasons. Parents have refused endlessly to let their children try new things because, “You might hurt yourself.” Arousing such fear can prove to be a big mistake.

Childhood is laden with controls built on instilling fear. Sometimes the process is so subtle that when we reach adulthood we don’t know why we fear what we do. One thing is certain: Fear is a formidable giant. It can control and dominate our every thought and action. More often than not, it is irrational and destructive—and is laid upon us under the label of control, wisdom, and safety. We need to ask if this is really the case.

The Master Teacher knows some fear is healthy, some is not. As educators, we must never use the irrational fears of students to get them to do what we want them to do.Tweet this We must realize that fear as a motivator works two ways. The same fear that causes students to stop talking in class can prevent them from trying a new lesson.

The Master Teacher knows fear can be felt and experienced in a classroom without a word being said. A relaxed friendliness can also be felt if it’s there. The Master Teacher knows we must help students realize they can’t make fools of themselves in our classrooms. No question is a dumb one. No answer is foolish. The Master Teacher works hard by word and action to help students realize the only real failure is not trying. This is our first step in reducing irrational fears.

The Master Teacher knows that a classroom is a place where things are shared. Talking about fear with students is one of our most important lessons. Anything that has so great an influence in our lives ought to be discussed and dealt with in classrooms. Helping children understand that being afraid usually results from our human tendency to exaggerate circumstances is step two in developing healthy and realistic attitudes toward fear. To dispel fear is to invite happiness and promote participation. To let children see that we are not agents of fear is to provide them with a relationship from which they can sort out their own fears. There is no bigger service that a teacher can perform for students. When we teach students to control fear rather than have fear control them, they are positioned for real living and learning—and not before. That’s why dispelling fear rather than instilling it must be one of our primary objectives.

Thought for the Week

Understanding why students may be reluctant to engage is a crucial first step in countering the behavior and opening the door to full participation and learning success.

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