January 25, 2007

what you are

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."
~Aristotle

One of my pet peeves when it comes to teaching is the student who claims that this other student is simply "smarter" than they are. Now, I am not going to argue with anybody about people having different levels of intelligence, but I do have some words to say about this.

In my experience, I have never had a student who performed well and made good grades on everything that truly didn't work. Some might say that they never worked or never studied, but that wasn't really the case. These "smart" kids were really just reaping the benefits of working hard for years. They had most likely been working hard at school since they entered school. As I observed these "smart" students, each time they would approach a new idea or a new topic, they would make sure that they really understood it completely before moving on, and they had been doing this for so long that it was their way of life (or their habit).

The majority of the students that I have who are struggling, as I observed them, I noticed that they would never struggle with the actual subject that I was teaching. In reality, they would struggle with the preknowledge that they were supposed to have obtained a few years earlier. So, even if they were really working hard at this point, they would become easily frustrated because the amount of knowledge they were trying to acquire was overwhelming.

At this point I will usually here a student say something about the subject being too hard, or other people were getting it because they were smarter. As I would help them, I would always begin by correcting that thought first. I would say, "No, they really aren't that smart, they just work really, really hard, and they have been for years. In fact, I can say with absolute honesty that I have never had an A student that wasn't a hard worker."

I also try to address that idea that the material is just too hard. I usually try to counter this idea by telling them to forget the grade and forget the subject for a minute, then imagine yourself one day, standing before God. (Which is going to happen. That is real. That is more real than the chair I am sitting in or the computer screen you are looking at.) Now, before this standing before God thing has happened, you have lived on this earth, and God has orchestrated all of your earthly circumstances to enhance you and make you more like Christ. In all of these circumstances, your responsibility is to seek to please Him. He has also told you to work heartily at all things, as if you were working for Him. (And "all things" includes this class that you are in.)

Now you are standing before Him. Are you going to try to hand Him the "...but it was really hard..." (spoken in your best whiny voice) line? How far do you think that will go? Or will He say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. In the same way that you have been faithful with a little, I will make you faithful with much."

I might differ with Aristotle a little bit, mostly on his definition of excellence, but I still ask the question, "what are you?" What have you become by your repeated actions? Are you striving for true excellence, the excellence found in Christ? Or are you seeking purely to please yourself?

Just some thoughts, sorry about this rant.

PS Now that I am working at a public school, I can no longer give this sort of motivational speech. I want them to do well, but the "...get good grades so you can get into college so you can get a great job so you can make a good life for yourself..." is such a worthless piece of rubbish compared to the Truth.