Editor's note: This article is the first in a three-part series from the author.
The very first day of school, we are not kissing our child good-bye and sending him off alone on a journey. We are embarking, hand in hand, in a partnership that must remain strong if it is to be fruitful.
Parents or guardians must remain as active and vigilant in their children's lives at school as they were before beginning their formal education. Parents must make certain their child or children are put into the best, most stimulating classes and that his teachers are being both fair and encouraging.
Parents must be willing to make a commitment of time, resources or energy when that is required.
A child must believe he is somebody special, somebody valuable and somebody with something to contribute at home and at school. At home, that means we turn down the radio to listen and talk to him; we teach him that his school work is a priority, his ideas are interesting and his feelings warrant consideration.
As parents we have an obligation to help our children prepare for the world. We must prepare our children for all the pessimistic, negative, discouraging voices along the way. They will come from people of all races and all ages. Some will mean well. Some won't. No matter, our children must listen to the voice inside them which alone speaks to their dreams and desires.
Our children, indeed, have the opportunity to become presidents of our country or Nobel-prize-winning scientists or mathematicians, to make the Fortune 500 or to write books that will become part of the canon of American literature. Why not? To get there, however, they have to produce. They have to work, remain focused and disciplined, suffer defeat, persevere and maintain a belief in themselves and their ultimate success. Why can't we encourage self-esteem?
Remember the children's book "The Little Engine That Could" by Watty Piper? If you constantly tell that little engine that he can't get over the mountain to deliver the candy and toys to the girls and boys, it probably never will. Parents are usually their children's most influential role models, and, therefore, they can be their greatest mentors. Children are likely to believe what they hear from their parents more than what they hear from anyone else. What do you want your children to believe about themselves? Teachers have a positive or negative influence on children also.
Try as they might, educators, parents and students may never be able to break the back of some of the problems that block student success. It's the way students are educated that hurts their performances, and many of those ways can be changed.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "The older I get, the more I realize that there is but one wealth, one security, on this earth and that is found in the ability of a person to perform a task well." But he didn't stop there. He went on to say, "And first and foremost this ability must start with knowledge." There is no substitute for knowledge.
In our approach to knowledge, we must realize that preparation is a constant process with no ending. It must be forever moving, never static. School is never out for the person who really wants to succeed, whether it's a child or an adult seeking a promotion on his job.
We need schools where students are challenged and parents and teachers involved as a team, supporting quality education and having high expectations for each child.
Everyone at school should embrace the idea that all students can learn if given the opportunity by teachers who care about all children regardless of ethnicity.
There is no such being as a self-made person. Those who have truly earned the world's respect and admiration for their outstanding accomplishments are always quick to point out the many helping hands, throughout their lives, that helped them reach their pinnacle of success.
Were you given a scholarship to attend college? Who was responsible for your not being a drop-out in middle and high school? Who taught you that creativity provides opportunities?
As a team, parents and teachers can teach children that they must believe that they are special, somebody valuable, somebody with something to contribute. That means parents turn down the radio or TV to listen and talk to him, turn off the television to read or play together and teach him that school work is a priority, his ideas are interesting and his feelings warrant consideration.
Experts say that until children can accept a parent's authority and respect at home, they are unlikely to accept any other authority anywhere. Being respectful toward teachers, parents, students and friends is critical to success in school and life.
Thomas Lickova, in "Educating for Character," said, "Respect for authority comes from understanding that legitimate authority figures are entrusted with the care of others."
Without somebody in charge, you can't run a family, school or country. When people don't respect authority, things don't work very well and everybody suffers. The first step in building respect for rules is to make rules important to your family and in the classroom at school.
Telling children they need to respect rules, authority or other people is important. But all the advice and lectures in the world won't make a dent if parents, teachers or other adults don't do themselves what they ask their children or students to do. To teach children respect, we must be a model of respect for our children. How well do you model respect?
Experts say that the best way to teach children respect is to be respectful toward them. Children must learn how respect feels. Only then will they know how to give it to others.
An atmosphere of mutual respect creates an ideal climate for discipline at home and at school. Children who respect adults obey them because they want to. They understand that adults are looking out for their best interests.
Our children naturally draw inspiration from sports figures, movie stars and other celebrities, but it is we, parents, to whom they look for daily guidance, love and support. We are their primary role models.
Let's make sure our encouragement is never in short supply and that our commitment to their physical and emotional welfare never lags. No NBA star will be our stand in at that parent-teacher conference. Only we can put forth the values and ideals from which our child can draw strength and prosper.
A good foundation built at home will carry our child out into the work and keep him going through his toughest times.
The world is tough, as we parents know. We want our own children to be able to make their way through it with spirit and confidence. That means they'll have to be strong and secure enough to stand up to others and speak their minds respectfully. At the same time, they cannot simply be smart alecks or back talkers; they need the intelligence and drive to carry through on their words.
Louise B. Adams is a former educator and principal of Ficquett Elementary School. She serves on the board of directors for both the Newton County Board of Health and the Washington Street Community Center.