I just got a message from a high school senior that recently learned that he isn’t going to be graduating with his class. He’s going to have to stick around awhile to finish a few more classes. Here is my response to him. I figured I might as well write it more generally so it could hopefully help other students struggling with this challenge.
Has anyone ever used the “tough love” approach to try and get you to study or learn better?
You either come to them looking for advice or they offer their unsolicited guidance to you. They say something like:
- “Suck it up and study more!”
- “You may get away with slacking from that teacher but you will have to WORK to get through this class.”
- “You just need to work harder or you won’t pass this class.”
Instead of giving guidance or advice they’re really giving you a mean swift kick in the ass.
The reality is that I don’t know much about you. I may be wrong about this but I’m willing bet someone has already tried that “tough love” approach and it hasn’t worked to get you working harder (and if it did, it certainly didn’t have the impact desired.)
Since you’ve probably already heard that tough love approach, I’m going to try and reach you from a different strategy. It’s important that you understand one major point first:
It’s Not One Mistake
If you’re not graduating on time then it’s not because of a single mistake you’ve made.
You didn’t fail your class because:
- -You bombed that important test.
- -You upset the teacher.
- -You skipped an important class.
The reality is that 95% of graduating students could have made those same individual mistakes you made and still graduated. Bombing a major test wouldn’t lower their grade enough to fail their class. Upsetting that teacher wouldn’t give the teacher an excuse to hold them back. If they skipped an important class, they would have managed without it. (Even if you failed to even start a required course, you could often graduate anyway.)
You are not in the situation you are in because of a single bad moment. You are where you are from a string of problems. No… these are not necessarily problems with you. And, even when these problems are your responsibility, many of them could have been from years ago and they’re finally catching up with you.
Missing an individual concept from elementary school can still bite you in high school. Sometimes there isn’t a very easy to trace back lineage to your problems.
It’s All Your Fault! But Not Really…
This is the thing I hate most about the “tough love” approach.
Most students in need of advice aren’t hopelessly arrogant about their prospects. Usually a teacher hands back a failed test or something before giving the tough love lecture. The student is usually already feeling bad. The student knows there is a problem but the teacher still feels the need to pointlessly point their finger and metaphorically bang on the student’s skull.
They end up making the student feel like it’s all their fault when it obviously isn’t that simple.
Yes… everyone knows the student holds primary responsibility in this situation but if it’s the only responsibility then why do they even hire teachers?
Instead of the teacher providing you advice or guidance they’re attacking you and hoping you can guide yourself. They’re not really helping. They’re trying to pass the buck.
Here’s the possibility that virtually no one talking with a struggling student considers:
Did You Try Hard?
I’ve met hardworking students in my time on this study blog. I’ve met hordes of them. Most of the hardest working students I’ve met have had the lowest grades. They sit with their textbooks for hours and just can’t get the information to stick with them. It doesn’t click but they’re definitely working their ass off.
You may or may not fit in this category but I’m going to make the assumption you are willing to work hard. That is, assuming you have an effective strategy. If you weren’t then you probably wouldn’t be reading this post to begin with.
When a student finds out they’re not graduating they could be suffering from one of a lot of potential problems. I think the way you approach your next few months should be determined by what your real problem is. The following list can help you with that.
Here is the important part though: Not working hard enough is not an option. Do not go on telling yourself that you failed because you didn’t try hard enough.
If you really think not working hard enough is your problem then you should have seen how little I worked and still graduated… Hard work is not a prerequisite for graduating. It’s just one approach (and not a particularly good one if you ask me.) Find a better answer from this list.
This is common category for students that don’t graduate from high school. I suspect this isn’t you but just in case it is.
Symptoms: Skipping class, not even trying to do class work, getting drunk/high/etc in class, not searching for solutions to the problem of not graduating on google.
Solution: You need an internal motivation. Unfortunately, if you really don’t care then you probably won’t apply this solution anyway.
If you really think this is the problem (or just part of it) then you might want to read:
Can’t Learn Or Remember
Most students that don’t graduate on time (but do graduate) are suffering from a problem on this front. This is a complicated area but it’s usually caused by some fundamental miseducation students are given about how to actually learn.
Symptoms: studying long and hard and not seeing much improvement, getting super frustrated while studying.
Solution: You need to change the approach you use to learn. Odds are, you’re using antiquated strategies that most high scoring students don’t use. Here’s a set of articles that might help:
Can’t Keep Up
This is one of the problems that are the result of struggling in the past. If you struggled to pay attention a few years earlier, you may still be suffering the consequences now. Small misunderstandings from back then can come back and bite you.
Symptoms: Not being able to follow the class lecture, not being able to follow the textbooks explanations (at all, if you can struggle and understand them then don’t count that,) working long and hard but being unable to figure some things out.
Solution: The solution to this problem is a tough one.
A student that struggled in the past and now needs catching up can’t just work the same way a regular student does. They need to change their approach or expectations.
Approach: They can study longer. They can hire a tutor. They can look up old concepts they’re struggling with instead of trying to power through them. They can ask for tons of guidance.
Expectation: They can take their damn time. There is nothing wrong with taking a bit longer to learn. You’re learning more than the average student is. It’s okay that you spend the time for it.
Here are some articles that might help with this problem:
You probably know if your personal life is partially responsible for your situation because you’ve lived it day after day. It could be a major problem like losing a close family member. It could be more of a time management style problem (working too much on stuff other than school.) It could be just plain old distractions.
In reality, most of these problems are related to one of the previous problems except for the part about loss or uncontrollable life struggles.
If you’ve lost someone or had some traumatic experience then forget about the symptoms and solution.
You pretty much know the symptoms.
If I had a solution then I probably couldn’t afford the website bandwidth bills. I don’t.
The only thing I can give you is in the next sections.
On Quitting Now:
Do not quit now!
Sure.. switch to GED? Maybe. Do not completely give up and move on with your life.
I say this as a guy that has gone on the record saying that it’s okay to drop out of high school. (Sure… I don’t think it’s good practice 99.999% of the time and I do think 99.999% of people that do drop out shouldn’t have.)
This has nothing to do with getting your high school diploma.
You shouldn’t be showing up for that. You should be showing up for this:
Do you want to live the rest of your life knowing that you never even tried? I know people almost 50 years old that look back and regret not getting a high school diploma. It’s a cultural symbol of basic competency. If you never finish this because you fell behind, for the rest of your life you’re going to have a voice in the back of your head saying you’re incompetent (or at least you might be.)
Choosing to not graduate is one thing. Getting scared off is completely different.
Whether you like it or not, you’ve spent over a decade of your life learning the required information to achieve this goal. If you’re this close then you can’t let yourself give up. I don’t care if it takes you 5 years and bribing all your teachers. Get it done.
This Isn’t A Problem
So… you’re not graduating on time. That sucks but it’s not that bad a problem.
The only real problem would be if you gave up right now.
People don’t graduate for countless reasons. Even when you’re applying for colleges, this is virtually never even going to be a problem. If anything it’s going to become a challenge that you stepped up and overcame (making you look even better.)
Employers aren’t going to know or care about this.
It may be a little embarrassing for a little while but, if you address your problem, this will be a temporary suffering for a long term positive.
Not graduating… What now?
Find your problem and put it to bed.
After that, you’re not only going to have your problem solved but you’re going to have the expertise to solve more problems in the future.
I hate the assumption that students should go to college after high school but college is a great example of how useful this is.
Huge percentages of students drop out in college. It usually is because of some stupid poor decision making for a semester by some student with completely unrealistic expectations of grandeur.
If you make it through this… you’re going to be in the position to fight through these problems better than the average student. Not graduating on time may not be your dream but it has virtually no negative consequences except that short term embarrassment.
Do you want to know how bad students become good students? I’ve noticed a few patterns that almost inevitably take place during this transition. If you’d like to read more you can in the subscribers section of this blog.
Why You Screwed Up In The Past Because Of The Things They Forced You To Do – And What To Do Instead
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