For twelve long years of school and after, he contends with a situation for which he can find no satisfactory solution. When schoolwork becomes insurmountable, the child has few alternative resources. An adult dissatisfied with his job may seek a position elsewhere or find solace outside of his work; he may even endure these difficulties because of a high salary or other compensations. For a child who fails, however, there is no escape. He is subjected to anything from degradation to long-suffering tolerance. Optimum conditions may lessen the child’s misery, but proof of his inadequacies appears daily in the classroom. In the end, he is held in low esteem, not only by his classmates, but also by his family. (Lerner, 2000, p.128)

This describes the LD child, young adult and adult who often feels lost and frightened because they often will and have suffered years of despair, discouragement, and frustration. Existing in a world of having a learning disability brings feelings of rejection, failure, and hopelessness about the future. These feelings are always present, affecting every subject in school and every aspect of a student’s life even into adulthood. If you don’t have a learning disability, it’s hard to understand the emotional world of those that suffer daily from these learning issues.

In order for us, teachers, to be successful in building the self-esteem of our students with learning difficulties, we must realize that learning disabilities and the failure that results, may influence every aspect of a student’s world. The ideal that he or she doesn’t measure up hangs over him relentlessly and it’s so hard to shack off. When failure does persist, students become overwhelmed and devastated. These feelings continue after school, on the weekends and throughout their lives. Therefore, it is important for us to recognize the emotional impact that long-term failure has on students and how our opinions and attitudes can impact them further. Let’s face it, teaching students with learning issues isn’t easy and we often become frustrated by our inability to reach them. If you become frustrated because you can’t teach them, can you imagine how the student feels about not being able to learn all that you are trying to teach them?

Despite how difficult students’ learning issues can be, we must never give up on trying to reach them and helping them to find interest in learning. The key is to try and find ways to build their self-esteem, and to interest them in learning. Having positive self-esteem is a powerful predictor of success. Therefore, I personally believe that positive self-esteem is as important to a student’s success as the mastery of individual academic skills.

Strategies to Help Build Self-Esteem

Here are several ways you can help your students develop the strength and skills they need to build positive self-esteem.

  • Find time to give your student your undivided attention. Children of all ages feel loved when we spend one-on-one time with them. I know this may seem impossible with the size of your class and workload, but even three minutes of quality time will make a world of difference. Don’t underestimate you, the general education, taking the time to reteach a specific skill that the student had difficult time learning. Sure, it will be easy to assign that task to your special education teacher counterpart, but the impact will be so much greater if you would take the time to do it instead every now and again.
  • Emphasize your student’s strengths, and be specific whenever possible. Help them to really understand and “own” their strengths. When your student feels a sense of accomplishment and pride in their ability to do something, they’ll have more confidence to persevere when they face challenges.
  • Accept and love your student for who they are. This will allow them to feel more secure in reaching out to others and learning how to solve problems.
  • Treat your student’s mistakes and failures as learning experiences. When you overreact to mistakes and failures, your student will tend to avoid taking risks rather than to disappoint you. That can also lead them to blaming others for their problems.
  • Give your student a chance to contribute to class by giving them something that you know they can do with success. This communicates your faith in their abilities and gives them a sense of responsibility.

Self-esteem is a critical component of your student’s happiness and success in school and in life. Helping students to feel good about themselves and their abilities is just as important as teaching them how to read, write and do math. Considering many students with learning disabilities often feel despair, discouragement, and frustration about not being able to learn as well as their peers, building self-esteem is extremely important. An educator who provides intentional, effective instruction and meaningful support in building a student’s self-esteem will help create a roadmap of success for their student.


Lerner, J. (2000) Learning Disabilities: Theories, Diagnosis, and Teaching Strategies. New York, Houghton Mifflin.

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