I want to start by admitting something, I was never a high achiever in high school. My marks continually hovered in the high 60 to mid 70 range, and while this is nothing that I'm proud of, it is a fact and it is part of who I am. It is also true that after graduating in 1987 I stayed in the work force for 7 years until deciding to go back to high school to upgrade my marks. In 1994 it was a completely different story, and my marks were all in the low to mid 90's. What happened? Did driving a fuel truck, waiting tables, and pumping gas suddenly cause me to become 20 to 30% smarter? Obviously not. Instead, what I believe happened is I developed something I did not have during my first high school experience; confidence.
It was nothing my teachers, friends or parents said that caused me to lack confidence in my abilities. It was my own inner voice continually telling me I was not nearly as smart as my classmates. I realize now, decades later, that it wasn't that I was stupid, for most of the time I was just disengaged. However, when I was engaged, usually in math and science, I just needed a little more time to make sense of what we were talking about. I think about the problems we used to have to solve in algebra class and how the question, upon first glance, looked like a tangled mess of fishing line I needed to straighten out. I just needed a little more time and a little more practice. While I struggled there were other students who just got it. If you think back to your days in school I'm sure you could recall students who stood out as kids who never struggled, they always seemed to be on top of whatever it was you were learning about. Now, if you think back and can't remember who those kids were, it's likely you were that student! Regardless, as students we had our own ranking system in place, and we knew who the "bright" kids were, and who the "struggling" kids were.
This brings me to what might be my first controversial statement I've made on my blog yet. I do not believe we should have academic awards in school. That's a pretty clear statement and it's coming from a person who experienced both success and failure at school. I believe schools should be about learning and in my opinion, learning has absolutely nothing to do with competition. I believe schools need to keep the emphasis on developing independent problem solvers who have the ability to learn and the ability to adapt to new challenges. I do not think a competitive environment is the best way to achieve this. You may think, "but what about the real world? Isn't there competition in the real world?" To that I say, "yes, of course there is competition." I believe there are many other ways kids can experience competition while growing up, I just don't feel the classroom should be one of those places. I think kids need to be involved in competitive activities where they learn how to be part of a team, how to handle losing and also how to handle winning.
Who knows where my road would have taken me had I been as confident in the 1980's as I am now. I'll never know, so there is really no reason to dwell on it. What I can do, however, is make sure that each student I work with understands how important it is to have a belief in one's self. I need to help them see how a person can do amazing things with a little self confidence. Henry Ford said it best when he said, "whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are correct".
As always, comments are welcome.