Throughout high school, I had teachers who would rejoice whenever anyone spoke up in class—particularly when they were answering a question correctly. Additionally, they would barely reprimand any student for causing any type of raucous behavior within the classroom.

Students loved these teachers.

However, I also had teachers who would offer no acknowledgment beyond “correct” when a student answered a question with the appropriate answer, but they would offer disapproval if a student answered incorrectly and scold any student for the slightest infraction.

Students didn’t love these teachers.

I didn’t realize it then, but I worked harder in the classes where the teachers were more likely to chastise me and where the opportunity to be praised was less frequent—sometimes nonexistent. I was determined to hear them utter some form of praise about my work, so I looked for any opportunity for that praise to be awarded, thus studying harder and being more attentive in their classes. But is this teaching method—where student praise is disregarded for a harsher approach—a successful tool to facilitate learning?

According to Joanne Lipman’s article “Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results” from The Wall Street Journal, “Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids’ self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.”

The article, based on Lipman’s experience with a high-school teacher whose methods would get him fired if applied today, lists eight traits that she believes need to be employed in the American teaching system so that students can gain rank over the rest of the developing world and not trail behind:

1. A little pain is good for you.
2. Drill, baby, drill.
3. Failure is an option.
4. Strict is better than nice.
5. Creativity can be learned.
6. Grit trumps talent.
7. Praise makes you weak…
8. …while stress makes you strong.

“All of which,” Lipman states, “flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads.”

I may not have liked those teachers in high school, but I appreciated their stricter methods. I never felt like I was the best, so I kept pushing forward. While I don’t intend to discredit the “nice” teachers, I learned more (and continue to learn more) in a more strict environment over one where I felt I could take a nap without the teacher noticing.

This brings about the question: How do teachers know which method will work for them and why do they choose to adopt it?

An article from The Atlantic called “Report: Teachers Aren’t Trained to Praise Their Students” states, “The report identifies ‘The Big Five’ of classroom management: Make rules; establish structure and routines; praise students for positive behavior; address bad behavior; and maintain student behavior. And it discovered that of all of these, the value praise was the least likely to be formally discussed.”

New teachers aren’t being taught how to praise students—something that seems innate—but rather to create a classroom environment where they are respected and have the full attention of their students.

Indeed, I think less praise and more pressure is better for students. Yes, they may feel more anxiety about succeeding, but they won’t become complacent—which can happen from continual praise, especially with young students.

Did You Know?

Mastery learning, according to the New York Times article “In ‘Flipped’ Classrooms, a Method for Mastery,” is such that “the student’s understanding of a subject is a constant and time is a variable; when each fifth grader masters prime factorization, for instance, he moves onto greatest common factors, each at his own pace.”

Briefly popular in the 1920s, one of the advantages of mastery learning is that the student decides the pace of the class, not the teacher. The teacher provides the necessary materials, but the students work at their preferred rates.

Initially a problem for teachers because of the varying levels of understanding among the students, mastery learning is being revived thanks to a process knows as the flipped classroom (check out our 2012 blog covering the topic), where “teachers make videos of their lecture introducing new concepts and assign them as homework. That frees up precious class time to work directly with students on projects, exercises or problem sets—the stuff that students would traditionally do at home. Now instead, of struggling alone, students can do the most important work with a teacher or peers who can help.”