Self-Esteem Can't Be Measured By Data

11/01/2010 01:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Self-esteem is one of the most important things we teach our students. I covered a special education class one day. Rather than giving the kids the busy work that was left for them, I decided to just talk to them, find out what they were about. They then asked about me, about what I taught. I told them math, mostly calculus. They asked me to teach them calculus. After a couple of seconds thought, I showed them how to do simple derivatives using the power rule, like the derivative of 6x^5. This just involves simple subtraction and multiplication. The kids had no idea of what they were doing or why they were doing it, but they felt good about doing it. They walked into their afternoon classes and showed off their newly acquired math skills. It was great.

Another term I developed a friendship with a mentally disabled young man, Nigel was a friend of one of my calculus kids and often came to class with him. Although Nigel couldn't possibly do any of the work, I handed him practice sheets and a calculator and he went through the motions of doing what the other students did. He too felt good about himself. He hated the stigma of special education and craved for the knowledge and companionship of the mainstream kids. Accepting Nigel into the class hurt no one and helped him greatly.

I've taught special education students that thought they had big SPECIAL EDUCATION signs stamped on their foreheads. Self-image was one of their biggest problems. Although I did little for their education, I know I helped them in more important ways.

And now the city is talking about releasing teacher data, statistics that are supposed to show who is good at their job and who is not. These statistics do not show how students were helped emotionally. There are no numbers to measure the self-esteem these kids have learned.