I told you earlier that I have spring on my mind. And each spring I lament the fact that I’ve yet to come up with a wonderful “one size cures all” solution for the students in my classroom who just don’t want to learn. There’s at least one in every classroom: a student with great potential and a lousy attitude. I’ve found this to be true in every school I’ve taught in, worked in, and attended as a student. I can even remember four of my high school classmates who were classic underachievers because of their attitude. Few parents, and even fewer students, truly understand the relationship between attitude and success. I would rather work with a child on the lower end of the academic scale who wants to learn, than struggle with one who is smarter, but unmotivated. It’s a constant battle to keep some of my students “on task”. I just keep trying to find the key to each student’s attitude and help them as much as I can in one short year.
Education is changing and evolving into something very different from our childhood experience. We live in a world overflowing information. We can no longer hope to teach our children 1/10 of what they need to know. Instead, we need to concentrate on developing students who know how -1. how to work with people, 2.how to find information, and 3.how to get things done. Students need to be cooperative, creative, inventive, understanding, willing to work, respectful of the rights of others, and determined to succeed, even if success requires hard work and a change in their attitude. Attitude, not ability, is the real key to school success.
Webster lists seven meanings for the word attitude. There are three that I think relate to school success. (4) a: a mental position with regard to a fact or state b: a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state. (6): an organismic state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus (as an object, concept, or situation) (7): a: a negative or hostile state of mind b: a cocky or arrogant manner.
Some students adopt the mental position that anything worth doing must be enjoyable. Nice work if you can get it, but they have to learn that all schoolwork is important. No one goes through life doing only what is fun!
Equally frustrating is the child who won’t try anything that looks remotely difficult. They are in a constant state of readiness called “fight or flight”. In frightening situations our primal response is to either stand and fight or run away. Some students choose to run away from anything perceived as difficult (math) or frightening (new). They are afraid of looking stupid in front of their peers or disappointing their teachers and/or parents, so they’d rather not try at all.
Another troubled student is the one with the cocky or arrogant manner, the one who says, “I’m not going to learn and you can’t make me!” He may think he has his life figured out and doesn’t want to hear any other ideas. Or he may have been so hurt by someone or some experience that he doesn’t want to risk being vulnerable again. He may be hiding a terrible secret, like the fact that he can’t see, hear, read. Or he may be like Shawn, a student I encountered a few years ago. His mother was a principal, so Shawn thought he was above reproach. There are as many reasons for an arrogant manner as there are children, so it is often the most difficult attitude to change.
These are just a few examples of students with lots of potential, but their attitude is preventing them from being successful students. I could have talked about Henry, who thinks his beautiful singing voice will bring him so much fame and fortune that he won’t need “all this school stuff”. Or Jake, whose mind has turned his minor disability into an insurmountable obstacle to success. There are literally thousands of children who enter school each day ready to fail because of their attitude toward school, life, parents, and themselves.
The Bible warns us that “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
The mind(heart) is the power behind everything we say and do. And in Ecclesiastes 10:9 we are told “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might”. I think these two verses, and many others, let us know that our attitude- the way our mind (heart) thinks about something- is more important than just the fact that we do it. I wish I could convey that to all of my students. I wish you would help me by teaching the children who are in your life that attitude is the key to success in school, and in life.