I knew I had to change my lesson plan aggressively when one of my students came screaming into the room, frantically stating that he would kill the person who had raped his mother the night before. Other young boys quickly chimed in, also exclaiming that they would kill the drug dealer who had made the younger sister sick. Suddenly, each one of my students expressed reasons to ‘kill someone’. Their emotions ran high, especially when a girl stated that she was going to find the murderer who shot and killed the neighbor’s two-year old in a drive-by shooting. The young child was just sitting by the window when she was shot.

I allowed them to scream out their built-up emotions, their anger and helplessness. Watching this tragedy and seeing these children in such deep despair gave me an inspiration to counter their low esteem. They were extremely distressed and on the verge of violence right their in my classroom. That indicated to me that I had to take actions immediately.

This is the story about children who allowed me, their teacher, to reach them and bring love, respect, beauty, and self-esteem into their lives. Together, we reached for the stars! Like little dry sponges, the kids soaked up everything, including me.

The process began with my belief in their abilities. Yes, I showered these kids with endless affection, kindness, and gentleness. For each of the boys and girls, I opened windows and doors to an entirely new world that contained positive qualities such as hope and self-efficacy. Teaching and implementing Self-Esteem and a positive belief system became an every day effort. I had this deep desire to give them the knowledge and wisdom of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect along their way to adulthood, all the time wondering if they would ever reach it.

l applied art as therapy to gain self-esteem, and expanded the kids’ imagination beyond anyone’s expectations. I began with a simple task- I rearranged the lay-out of the classroom and placed their desks in a half circle around mine. Each of the boys and girls wanted to be closer to me; so we learned to respectfully take turns*. Improvising a lesson plan which captivates their imagination and attention was my next task. In their own words they were to express their agony and write down their feelings; it was the first step in creating a play for stage. They began writing with great enthusiasm and our English lessons suddenly became the most favorite class time. ‘My kids’ understood immediately that they had to create a plot with several characters, a dialogue, interactions, and the script for the director. Each role was assigned to one of my six graders. I t was time to choose a name for this project; they chose the name “Cease Fire Kids”.Being a participant meant having pride in newly found Self-identity, living a positive life style, and applying socially acceptable behavior skills. Being a CFK member meant to live by the ten-point guideline*. My kids became ‘bully proof’ through high self-esteem.

As exhausting as it was, it was deeply satisfying to see the changes in ‘my kids’ right before my eyes. Here are a few remarkable success stories. First of all, the CFK play became well known. Suddenly, this poor project school, especially my class, became a media focus. The amazing results were fabulous- the Cease Fire Kids were invited to participate in a real local theater play! And my nine year old, extremely shy Maurice found the calling of his life: he became a child actor. His first major role was a silent part in the world premier of Thea Musgrave’s opera “Simon Bolivar”.Oh what a joy to know that my ‘arrogant boy’ who designed the scenery for our play, went on to truly believe in his own artistic talent. He accepted an internship in an advertisement agency’s art department. I still cherish the treasured note reading “thanks for teaching me how to smile“, from the little girl who agonized so deeply to find the inner strength to face her abuser- the music teacher in our school. And when I realized later that the ‘fingernail’ girl broke the vicious family circle, and made it into high school without getting pregnant, I knew that’s what it was all about! And they were only twelve years of age.

Although Norfolk Public School Administration praised the program, it refused financial support. However, the attitude changed dramatically when politicians, like then Virginia Senator Stanley Walker, became involved.

In a simultaneous development, our non-profit organization created jobs and on-the-job training, by involving parents and their talents and skills. It met then Governor George Allen’s initiative to reduce unemployment. He supported my CFK project with a substantial state grant. Private Foundations, local businesses, the medical and psychology field, law enforcement and many private individuals of the Hampton Roads Community jumped on the band-wagon. It became fashionable to support the Tolerance Awareness Program, therefore, the children.The culmination of acknowledgement came in 1996 under the nationwide “President’s Service Award”, when President Bill Clinton honored my work with a personal letter for the “difference I made in the community and for my social engagement”.

Author's Bio: 

Anke Otto-Wolf is a published author, passionate teacher, and an authority on Self-Esteem; she has transformed 'wild' classrooms, from K-12, into tranquil, learning conducive environments; she manifests self-esteem in adult learners; she creates the Self-Esteem Tools for teachers and parents.

After an earlier successful career in the performing arts, Anke obtained a degree in Journalism; disillusioned about journalistic truth, she turned her passion to teaching which provided her with the opportunity to share her vast knowledge. Anke's intense work with inner-city kids has earned her many awards and recognitions such as from former President Bill Clinton and Marian Edelmann of The Children’s Defense Fund.Anke is also the co-writer for a socially significant video against violence, “Go Ahead and tell”, which won an Oscar 1994 from the film Academy in L.A. Additionally, during her years of teaching at inner-city schools, she learned first of 'her kids' deepest needs which spurned the creation and publishing of "The Psst-psst of Toley Ranz", an inspiring, educational series of children's books focusing on tolerance and self-esteem. Anke’s self-esteem guide for parents and teachers, “How Many Patches has your Tolerance Quilt?” is offering classroom proven solutions for teachers and parents. Her international success was evident when the Bavarian State Department of Culture & Education, Germany, requested in 2000 that she implements the Self-Esteem Quilt Project in middle schools.

Anke's website www.self-esteem-tools-for-teachers.com provides a wealth of suggestions, solutions and hands-on classroom proven material to boost Self-Esteem. It also contains detailed information about live workshops, e-classes and e-seminars, FREE call-in coaching sessions, books, and much more. Anke is a Jack Canfield trained international speaker and presenter.