Teacher: I wrote a song to help my students build confidence

Story highlights

  • Lovely Hoffman: My students' struggles with low-self esteem resonated with me because I felt unattractive as an adolescent
  • I knew I could find purpose in changing the way black children view themselves and each other, Hoffman writes

Lovely Hoffman is a recording artist, activist and educator. She has 13 years of classroom experience teaching students in urban communities and her focus is on African and African-American history, self-esteem building and character development. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)In his student paper, "The Purpose of Education," Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education."

I echo Dr. King's sentiments and agree that while academic achievement is an essential component of education, developing the self-esteem, confidence and character of our children is equally important.
My journey as an educator began 13 years ago. I had just graduated from Boston College and I was optimistic about teaching and inspiring children from my community.
    I quickly became familiar with the challenges that often prevented children from making the most of their education. While insufficient resources such as books and technology are commonly cited as the leading factors that negatively impact student performance, I discovered other factors that are more detrimental to the growth of our children: low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
    Lovely Hoffman
    My students' struggles with low self-esteem resonated with me as I remembered feeling unattractive as an adolescent. As a child I was constantly reminded that I was not considered beautiful because I had dark skin, tightly coiled hair and high cheekbones.
    My students' struggles, coupled with my own experience, compelled me to write a song called "My Black Is Beautiful" in an effort to change the way young girls of color perceive themselves. As an educator, I knew that if I could positively change the way black children view themselves and each other, then I was fulfilling my purpose.
    In many ways, since the rise of social media, developing the self-esteem and confidence of our children has become more challenging, not less. Students are being inundated with images of beauty that do not reflect who they are, reminding them that they do not fit society's beauty standard.
    After years of teaching in the classroom and noticing many students struggling with low self-esteem and confidence, I began to incorporate ways to address the problem in my teaching. Although it bothered me there were no standardized methodologies in place to deal with these issues, it didn't hinder me from developing my own curriculum to encourage and motivate students to believe in themselves.
    For my young female students, however, the challenge was much more daunting, because I noticed that their low self-esteem centered around their appearance. Over the years I overheard young girls saying hurtful remarks to one another, and often they were negative comments about skin color, hair and weight. The teasing and bullying became so unbearable that students lost their motivation to learn, which impacted their academic performance.
    So I decided to write a song, and feature 12 of my 7th and 8th grade students in its music video, to inspire them to embrace their natural beauty.
    One of the goals of the song is to teach black girls that beauty comes in different complexions, hair textures, shapes and sizes, and that there is not just one standard of beauty. The message I wanted to convey to my students, as well as all young girls of color, is that our differences are not deficits but rather assets that make us beautiful.
    The song's lyrics emphasize the importance of defining beauty for oneself, celebrating differences and affirming that African features are beautiful:
    "Look at her hair, look at her braids, look at her eyes, look at her nose, look at her fro ... Who are you to say that I'm not beautiful? It's your own insecurity because I know and I believe My Black Is Beautiful."
    Since releasing the song, I have seen so much growth among the young students who participated in the video. It is powerful watching them grow into themselves and become more confident. These young girls are now leading discussions about self-love at their school, in the community, and at film festivals, demonstrating a willingness to share their stories and struggles with self-esteem.
    While I understand that I will not see the complete effects of the song, I know the seed has been planted and the students in my video, as well as the many others I teach, will grow into self-assured and confident women.
    In the short time since its January release, the song has also impacted parents, ministers, and others who work with young people. I often hear from people -- in my own community and from across the country -- statements like: "If only they had taught us this in school, when I was younger. It would have made a world of difference."
    And: "So many black girls are not happy with their appearance, thank you for creating a powerful message to uplift the young girls."
    Then there was a comment from a former 6th grade student of mine, who is now 22 years old. She said: "...She's the reason I have so much confidence and part of the reason why I'm very confident in my dark skin."
    It is comments like these that reveal the urgent need for society to place a higher value on beauty diversity. Black women are constantly reminded that they do not fit America's beauty standard.
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    Just last month Bill O' Reilly spewed insults at African-American Congresswoman Maxine Waters, referring to her hair as a "James Brown wig." And this past fall African-American comedian Leslie Jones was viciously attacked on social media for her appearance when an image of an ape and degrading comments were posted on her social media account.
    It is comments like these that our children internalize and transfer into the classroom. This is why we must implement self-esteem and confidence-building programs in our schools.
    What is missing from education is the development of the whole child. My vision is that schools integrate lessons of self-esteem, confidence building and character development into the curriculum. This will enable students to not only succeed academically, but also to grow the self-assurance they will need to achieve their goals and navigate life's challenges.
    My hope is that "My Black Is Beautiful" inspires teachers to see the value in nurturing self-esteem in their students. Moreover, I encourage principals and school leaders to focus on helping students to love themselves and cultivate the self-confidence they need to thrive.