Say ‘SUSHI!’ and the Japanese come to mind instantly. The Japanese are one of the biggest consumers of fish and they love their fish fresh. However, due to over-fishing, the waters close to Japan has not held many fish for decades. So, to keep up with the demand, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The further the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring the fish. Since the return trip took more time, the fish were not fresh. To overcome this issue, fish companies installed freezers on their boats to freeze the fish they caught at sea.

However, the Japanese did not like the taste of frozen fish. The frozen fish also fetched a lower price. So, fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish, and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little thrashing around, they were tired, dull, and lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing industry faced an impending crisis!

But today, they get fresh-tasting fish to Japan. How did they do it?

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the Japanese fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, *but with a small shark*. The fish are challenged, and hence are constantly on the move to avoid being eaten. The challenge they face keeps them alive and fresh!

Like those fish many of us also live in a pond, and over time we become dull and tired. If there is nothing to challenge us, we lead mundane lives that dull our senses. However, if we are constantly challenged by small adversities, we become energized and thereby stay active.

This is true for students as well. A firm teacher who relentlessly challenges students to reach their potential is the ‘shark’ that pushes them to greater heights. Teachers who don’t accept made-up excuses and always expect the best are the ones students learn from the most. The stress that such teachers inevitably produce doesn’t kill them as many seem to fear.

In fact, starting in 2005, a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor, mar Poplin, set out to find out what makes a teacher successful. She spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers in the worst schools of Los Angeles. Their No.1 finding: “they were strict,” she says. “none of us expected that.”

The researchers’ assumption had been that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, these disciplinarians, that they had studied, relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students’ ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

Prof. Seery further adds, “Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience. They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors.”

Prof. Seery’s findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of “toughness”—the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? “Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher,” Prof. Seery says.

In summary, stress in small amounts builds resilience in children and builds character. Moderate amounts of pressure from a teacher or a coach, for example, can motivate a child to keep her grades up in school or to participate more fully in athletic activities. Successfully managing stressful situations or events enhances a child’s ability to cope in the future.