Confidence: It’s often the only thing separating success from failure. It’s also an asset that tends to accumulate in a person, so those that have been around longer have a greater potential to have copious amounts of it. While confidence can take years to build, it can also be destroyed in an instant, making it one of our more fragile human characteristics.

We want our children to be confident. We understand that success leads to confidence, and confidence, in turn, leads to more success, so it makes sense to build our kids up so that they have the greatest potential to succeed in life. Adults sometimes allow children to win games or contests in order to make them more confident about their abilities. Some adults, however, believe the only way to make children confident is to criticize their every attempt until they work hard enough to achieve perfection. To praise anything less would give them a false sense of value and self worth.

Parents aren’t the only adults who can instill confidence in our young people: Teachers are also in the position to encourage children when they recognize even the faintest glimmer of potential. Sometimes, all it takes is a teacher telling a student that they are good at something, and that will be enough to propel the child to greatness. Everyone needs to feel that they are special in some way, and both parents and teachers need to identify what is potentially special about a child and nurture that quality along. A child can’t have enough people encouraging them because the world is also full of voices screaming that they are worthless!

I have met many excellent teachers along Carl’s path from Wilder Elementary to Valley Middle to Central High, that have taken an interest in helping him develop those areas that he seems to be strong in. One such teacher is Sandy Espe, a teacher at Central High School, who was featured in Saturday’s “Grand Forks Herald.” I’ve only met Mrs. Espe on one occasion, but I was immediately struck by the career resource educator’s confidence and excitement for her own chosen career. Mrs. Espe is certainly a teacher who appears willing and ready to identify potential strengths in her students, then to use her energy and enthusiasm to encourage them along their way.

It turns out Mrs. Espe had once been extremely self conscious about the blackened front tooth and “Coke Bottle” glasses that her classmates teased her about. Then she had her tooth repaired, got contact lenses, and entered the Miss Buffalo contest as a high school junior. Dick Clark, who was the celebrity judge from afar, chose her as “Miss Photogenic,” and she credited that moment as one that changed her life. “Wherever it is that you find your niche in life, where you feel you belong or get approval that you’re OK, to feel that from your peers or from someone like Dick Clark – that was ‘Wow” Mrs. Espe said.

Mrs. Espe knows firsthand how far a little encouragement can carry a person and she in turn has devoted her career to helping students find their own “niche in life.” Any adult’s kind words can become the start of a little confidence, which can lead to a little success, which will hopefully continue building on each other throughout a child’s life. We owe it to our kids to take the time necessary to discover what it is they are good at, and then nurture and encourage them as they develop. Thank you, Mrs. Espe, for being part of our team!