Stuck in a cycle of failure

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Don Short Agony Uncle answers your questions

Q: I have a student with very low self-esteem. I keep praising her but it appears to have little effect. The problem is deep-rooted and stems from her troubled relationship with her parents and experience at her last school. I need to try to build her confidence before she drops out. I have seen this happen before and am determined it doesn't happen again.

A: I recently attended training where this issue was raised. This is what I learnt. If you say to a confident pupil "well done", they will tend to feel more confident. But use the same general terms on someone with low self-esteem and it will probably have little or no impact. The person with low self-esteem is really thinking. "What do you mean? It can't be excellent because I'm a failure."

The solution is to be much more precise. Direct the student's attention to the part of their work that warrants praise. If possible, compare it with previous work to demonstrate a specific improvement. This makes the idea of improvement unequivocal.

Record the improvement because on another day the pupil may easily believe it didn't happen. But that is just the start Trying to come back from "failure" is like walking through estuary mud.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today