December 5, 2012

A Clue from the Past


During the process of moving my blog from one URL to another, I've perused my old posts. My writing reflects my journey; one that has moved from college-professor-based to life-based. In terms of ambivalence to my job (e.g., being the expert, yet being uncomfortable with judgment), my feelings are well-expressed in a blog post from October 4, 2008. A post I titled, "Grades and Misplaced Self-Worth":

"In the past couple years, I've explicitly talked with my students about (and now include in my syllabus) the important fact that they are not their grades. That is, their self-worth is not attached to a grade they get on a particular test or paper, or in a class, or even in their GPA at the end of college. In fact, their self-worth is not tied to any external achievements. They are all good, lovable people, just as they are. This is an important point for all of us to remember (I still sometimes struggle by equating myself with my job as a teacher and judging myself if I make a mis-step).

Does this mean students shouldn't care about learning or preparing for assignments? Of course not. For students who really want to be in college, learning is the key (learning both in and out of the classroom). And I will do all I can to encourage learning and to help students learn concepts and ideas (statistical ideas, in my case).

But it's important for college students (any students) to realize that their self-worth, their soul, their goodness is not tied to performance. Learn, learn, learn, yes! But don't create anxiety and extra pressure by tying personal goodness to the learning process. This is, of course, easier said than done. Unfortunately, there are messages throughout society that people are equated to outcomes (if you're not quite "good enough," then you can buy some new lotion or gadget or workout equipment to improve yourself). Furthermore, there are messages within academics that students are defined by their achievement in the classroom (GPAs "needed" for graduate school, constant comparison with other students, explicit messages from professors and advisors that students "aren't good enough" to make it through a particular class).

Let's stop the madness! Let's stop thinking of our students as floating brains in our classrooms with no other interests, commitments, talents, and goodness. Let's encourage them to learn for learning's sake, yet to believe deep within themselves that they are good people, regardless of outcomes. Yes, we must assign grades, but, no, we don't have to add judgment on top of that. Let's give students room to learn, struggle, fail, prioritize, and grow by being supportive, not judgmental. (Most of them feel so many different pressures at the very time they are trying to find themselves and their voices.) Let's model for students that personal growth and balance are important steps along the life path."

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