“My kid is an A student.” This statement makes parents around the county beam with pride. How do I know? Well, my parents would brag about me. I was fortunate enough to be an “A” student during my secondary schooling. There was a problem with this though my “A” came easy. Why was this a problem? Because I learned a few unproductive habits and beliefs that would inhibit my growth as I got older.
Number 1: success should be easy. Because of the continuous experiences I had during school, when things were hard, I would sometimes quit. I shied away from challenges, especially in college. I recall my senior year, I had to present a mini dissertation to the math department. I did all I could to avoid class. I did end up completing it, however I tried to avoid the entire thing. We’ve all seen students avoiding class or challenging tasks during our career. I believe this is a direct result of believing learning should be easy.
Number 2: procrastination of tasks. Since I did not need to work hard, I would wait to the last minute to complete assignments. I only recall a few times when I didn’t still receive an A. One of those times was in eight grade. I had to do a science project involving a natural disaster. I waited until the last minute and asked my older cousin for help. He gave me the idea of using a monopoly house, water, a jar, and dishwashing soap. From this I made a tornado, which was created when I shook the jar (embarrassing). When I did not receive a good grade I was allowed to redo the assignment because I was a “good student” and my mom asked. I obtained a better grade on the redo, but learned procrastination had no consequences. We have all had students who frustrate us by waiting until the last minute. We see so much potential in them.
Number 3: I learned to be dependent on external praise. Since making an A was the main goal, I learned to enjoy the attention I received from that outcome. I even craved it. I recall my uncle giving me money for getting an A. I know he was trying to be encouraging, but I think this reinforced my unproductive habits. As a result, I noticed myself only working hard if it was for others. For example, I was only getting A’s because I wanted to play sports. My dad always said, “If you don’t get an A, then you can’t play.” Therefore, the grade was not for the personal satisfaction for my own hard work, but because I was being rewarded. Trying to please others always brought anxiety and worry, never true internal satisfaction. We all have seen students who only care about the grade and not the learning experience.
So, what can we do to counteract these?
I believe we must provide more opportunities for our students to experience challenges during class. Think the earlier, the better. By providing these opportunities, students can learn the true satisfaction of working towards a goal. Life is about challenges and learning to face and manage challenges effectively. Think about your own personal challenges you have overcome. I have learned much more from my challenges, than I did from anything that came easily. Another benefit is ownership. I relate this to doing chores at home. I know I don’t like chores now because as a child I didn’t do many chores, but if I had done them earlier I would probably take more pride in the opportunity to do and complete a chore. We all would like students to take more ownership and pride in their work.
In conclusion, as educators our responsibility is to provide students the skills needed for success in the future. I believe this starts with the experiences we choose to give students. We often want to give students things they “can do”. An example would be our hesitation when saying “my kids can’t do that”. We must also provide students with challenges that push them beyond their comfort zone. I realize we all (teacher, student, and parent) might be uncomfortable with the change. There might be pain, fear, and anger. However, we must provide these opportunities so our students are ready for their future.
Let me know what you think!