“How can I do better on the next test?”
I wasn’t always a good student. I like learning, sure, but sometimes the rigor of the classroom hasn’t always helped me in learning. Most of the time I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting good grades, but occasionally I felt some pangs at my underachievement. The teacher, almost reflexively, gave me an answer I was sure he had given many times before, and would give many times after I inevitably failed the next test.
“You should study more.”
I didn’t say anything and the teacher stared through me – I’m not sure why. Maybe to see my reaction? I never asked and, frankly, I wouldn’t care much for the answer he gave me anyways, I’m sure. I didn’t respect him and I have doubts he respected me.
After about 10 seconds of silence I broke eye contact with him somehow. This had turned in my mind into a destructive conversation where he would win and I would lose, and I couldn’t take that. Either I would lose because he would have made me give up (this is difficult for a student who has always done well to understand – how confrontational the Student-Teacher Relationship can be) or because I’d be made to look like a fool … well, he already had.
When a teacher says, “You should study more” to an underperforming student, I’m sure almost all the time they mean well. But what I heard from that teacher was, even though I know he didn’t mean it this way, “You’re too stupid to know you have to study for a test.”
Looking back, I’m not sure what sort of answer I was looking for then. I knew how to do better in classes – studying more, doing more homework, asking questions, getting help when I need it. Probably every struggling student knows this. I know what sort of answer I should have given – I needed an answer that spoke to my academic ambivalence, that as a student I lived in a state of limbo between not being sure if I was interested in changing my behavior, that this state of ambivalence is self-perpetuating, and that there were rational reasons why I was ambivalent on being a good student.
Before I thought much about this I assumed that students in my classes, for tautological reasons, wanted to do well in my classes. If they didn’t want to succeed why else would they have signed up? I’m sure in a costless world they would all prefer to succeed than to not succeed. Now I’m not convinced – I think many of our students, especially ones that struggle, live in a world of ambivalence.
Why do I think this? Because I think almost everyone you meet does – if not, I know I sure do. We all live imperfect lives and we all have times where don’t rise to the challenge of our personal goals. I think there are several good reasons why – which will be the topic of a blog soon.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART III