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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frame By Frame Education

Educating teens for the 21st century is the job of thousands of dedicated teachers; I am proud to be one of them. After this moving opening statement (or was it a cliche), let us examine what makes a teen tick and how we can, sometimes, fix their living clock frame by frame.

What is a frame? Imagine that a young person's life is like a movie: actors and objects do not actually move on the screen; rather, their exploits are a series of frames shown at high speed, just like a book of pictures can become a moving scene if we flip the pages very rapidly. In  the case of a real teen, each frame is composed of significant events in their lives that may be beneficial or destructive in the long run. As teachers, we can help produce such highly positive frames just as a movie director tells the actors what to do, say and how to do it.

Of course, teens will not let strangers or, for that matter, let parents dictate what they can or cannot do. They have to be convinced not only that the action will be good for their future, such as going to college, but that there also exists a strong bond of trust with the adult. Without trust and respect, nothing positive can be accomplished.

As a teacher, for that matter as a parent, we have the obligation to create positive mind frames that will perdure far into adulthood. Simply saying to the teen that he or she must go to college to get a better paying job will not be sufficient. They want to know who the messenger is and how much he/she can be counted on to give the necessary support until the goal has been reached.

Who doesn't remember the first driving lesson? The first swimming lesson? The first heartbreak when parents divorce or die of a premature illness? The first bicycle ride, or pony ride, or visit to Disneyland? Our life as a child should be full of pleasant frames that we bring back into our conscious memory whenever the appropriate stimulus appears. The smell of recently cut grass in the country reminds me of my vacations on a farm. The delicious aroma of roasted chestnuts evokes a cold winter night in Geneva, many years ago.

I remember my significant teachers with great pleasure and nostalgia and try to bury the memory of my mediocre ones. Sitting on my easy chair in my autumn garden in the warm twilight I let my mind wander to the fantastic fall colors of tall oak trees in my teen years while listening to a Vivaldi concerto. As we get older, say, above fifty winters, we have, usually, more time to reflect on our childhood and on the key adults who had a hand in our personal growth. It can be a teacher, of course, but other figures appear in my subconscious mind: the leader of my boy scout group, a friend of my parents who offered me a wonderful role model of success, unlike my father, the live-in maid of my grand uncle who taught me proper hygiene and how to discern between nonsense and common sense, the cousin (female) who gave me a lesson on how to kiss, the old fisherman by the lake who showed me how to untie the knots in the tangled nylon line, the pretty secretary who completed my sexual education, all of these frames remain vividly engraved in my memory as a child and teen growing up in Switzerland.

Making a difference in a teen's life, a very positive difference of course, is our sacred duty as teachers and parents. We can do it better by making sure that the frames have three essential components: Visual, Emotional, and Personally Significant. Visual because most people are visual learners. For example, don't just talk about becoming an engineer; find a way to take the teen to a factory or lab where engineers actually work. He or she will always remember the experience whether they decide to follow that career or not.

Emotional because for a frame to perdure in the subconscious mind, it needs emotional energy. It could be a family celebration when the teen achieves a life goal, such as high school graduation or appearing for the first time on stage or scoring the first touchdown or goal in soccer. Even smaller accomplishments must be recognized by parents, teachers and siblings. A simple "good job" may be sufficient to fixate the moment indelibly.

Personally Significant because what is important to father may not be for the son or daughter; a friend of my wife's spent six agonizing years in dentist school just because her father was "convinced" that she, the only child, would follow in his footsteps. She never touched a dental instrument again in her life.

Let's create these mind frames while we have them at home; once they leave, other people will do it, although not necessarily with our children's welfare as a goal. If teachers and parents alike work together to create these beautiful memories in our children and teens, who knows how far they may go?

Will you pitch in?

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