Wednesday, May 26, 2004

How to Develop A Bad Attitude

With the end of the school year coming to a close, students are busily dreaming of anything besides schoolwork. Patience is wearing as thin as the tank tops. What causes students, or people to reach the point where they stop caring? Perhaps an example or two will help explain.

A number of students in my class have absolutely no clue what is going on. They do not have any idea where we are in the textbook. They have not opened a book to take notes. They have no desire whatsoever to do work. All they want to do is sit and talk to their friends. They get rather frustrated where it is pointed out to them that this is not acceptable within the class. Thanks to the great social reform programs we have, successful teachers are somehow supposed to find a way to motivate these lost souls. We are supposed to find a way to make even the most wayward student come to appreciate the intricacies of geometry and simultaneous equations.

Normally a few tricks and techniques can make some see the light. Sometimes though, the atmosphere is such that no matter what you do, the negative outweighs the positive. In those cases, what is a body supposed to do? Having more fun isn’t an option because students can’t handle the extra freedom – well at least in a way that gets anything done, and doesn’t further delay those that still want to learn. So you are left either putting up with negative comments, disruptions, and a trickle down contamination, or exerting mind-numbing authority to force some sort of discipline.

Of course, idealists will have an answer that will work. To be honest though, once a relationship has been set, unless it is meaningful, there really is no incentive to try and fix it. Most student teacher relations are like this. Why bother changing who you are for something that only lasts 1 hour a day for 5 months? Once a dynamic has been developed, change is very difficult.

Ignoring the educational solutions and problems, I wonder what causes people to get to the point where they don’t care and don’t want to change? For my students, I think for many it is the realization that they aren’t going to pass unless they make a huge change that they are unwilling, or unable to do. But the development of a bad attitude has a number of triggers; triggers that I think are pretty universal to any bad attitude.

One trigger seems to be an apparent inability of other people to get it right. For students, it may be a complaint that the teacher just can’t explain the material on the board. From a teacher’s perspective it means that students get bogged down by a rather simple stumbling block, rather than trying to work around the problem. It might be that grade 9 math you thought you could get away with ignoring. Since a teacher can’t explain every possible step over and over again, no presentation will ever seem to make sense. In the church it may be that a leader just can’t explain an idea in a way that suits your frame of reference. Because of this, everything they try to do eventually seems rather pointless and flawed.

Another trigger occurs when you try and see what you can get away with. As mature as parents like to think their students are, most students view school as more a social than educational institution. Teachers are there to enforce the rules, students are there to see what they can get away with. Students feel quite comfortable lying directly to a teacher about homework, absences, etc because, well it is the teacher’s job to call them on it. In this case, the onus of control is definitely put on the authority figure. If this happens, anything that goes wrong must be the fault of another. In the church perhaps many see our leaders as being there to lead us to happiness and righteousness. If we aren’t getting there, perhaps we view it as the fault of our leaders’ directions. Perhaps some people also see some directions from the church as rather pointless and out of date. Ignoring these may unconsciously cause some to experiment with the limits of acceptable behaviour.

To me though, I think the biggest trigger occurs as hope is lost. Hope is the last straw we can hold on to. A belief that change is impossible makes even going through the motions seem useless. Attempts to get us on track are viewed as instigatory and intolerable. Believing that our actions have no effect on an outcome is a state that many students get into. While it is true that in many circumstances, actions won’t change an outcome (for example getting 95% on the last quiz of the year when you have a 28% average), actions aren’t’ always for an specific outcome. In school, and in life, many of the things we get taught have little intrinsic value. Their worth lies in what they force us to become. The point of most Math classes, really isn’t to get a 55% or 80%, it is to get us onto to something else. The whole reason the specifics have gotten chosen is because of their relation to a far reaching end goal. Belief that minutiae are more important than becoming will almost always result in despondency. Unfortunately the whole concept of becoming require a certain level of abstraction that often must get developed through, well minute details.

A circular development like this is always tough to deal with, especially if people have been around the loop long enough to loose the ability to jump out of it.

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