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I saw the above picture yesterday and immediately recognized what it refered to. The quote comes from Angela Lee Duckwall’s TED talk, “The Key to Success? Grit.” I showed it to my students this past spring, hoping it would be encouraging to them. If you’ve never see it, check it out HERE.

My students were starting to slack off and disengage from the work. They were complaining about the workload, how it didn’t matter, and were generally unruly. I’ll be honest: part of the problem was me, and I know it. We were going through “Hamlet” and they were struggling to understand the langauge (which I knew would probably happen, but didn’t really prepare for). Facebook suggested this particular TED Talk to me and I couldn’t pass it up. The day after I watched it, I showed to them. They had a hard time understanding the word “grit”. It was new to them and they’d never heard it before. I explained it was the quality of persisting through hard situations, “stick-to-itness”, if you will. O ok. They understood that. We talked about pushing through things, doing things even when we didn’t want to do them. We talked about getting through the material we were reading, how bettering their English would create more opportunities for them, and that being persistant would better prepare them for college. Afterwards, things got a little better. It helped that I found an easy-read version of “Hamlet” and they suddenly better understood the material. When we finished “Hamlet,” they better understood the story and completed projects to reflect that they had understood the material. They had shown understanding, but they had also shown grit. 

I’ve been in my new teaching position for a month, and I am wondering if I need to show this video again. Most of my students are not trying. They don’t like English, mostly because they struggle with it. It’s hard. English isn’t just reading stories and talking about the stories. I’m not just reading with them on a carpet here (although the media would like people to believe that’s all English teachers do). I’m trying to teach them to find elements of literature in the stories. I’m trying teach them to understand what they read, which they usually don’t. I’m trying to teach them to think about what they’re reading, which they don’t want to do at all. Shoot, most of the time, they don’t even understand the storyline at all. And the worst part is that they don’t ask for help. Right before my first test on Friday, a bunch of students said they didn’t understand the stories at all. I asked them why they hadn’t even asked me for help or to explain it. They didn’t respond. Some students had missed class on Wednesday or Thursday, then they said they hadn’t made up the work they had missed because they didn’t know what to do. I asked them if they’d looked at their weekly calenders that told them what we were going to read that week, or if they had asked their parents to call the office and get the make up work, or if they had emailed me, or if they had a parent call me. No, no, no. They had not even thought about it. I told them they should have taken some responsibilty for their learning and done something about it. None of them responded.

I’m not trying to rip on my students. I’m trying to point out something that is lacking in our modern culture: grit. People are lacking grit in all kinds of ways. You can see it in every age group, too. Baby boomers are giving up on trying to show other generations how to live well and are retiring in mass droves. Those who are unemployed or underemployed are giving up on finding good jobs in their fields. Millenials are giving up on finding jobs and accomplishing their goals under crushing student debt and societal/parental pressure to be “grown ups” living on their own and finding jobs that pay off their debt. People aren’t taking relationships seriously and giving up on them before really investing in them. Women are giving up on finding men who don’t act like teenagers. Men are giving up on finding women who aren’t jerks. Parents are giving up on raising children well. Children are giving up on behaving well and making good choices. And teenagers are giving up on their futures and themselves before they even start trying. Several of my students think that they are stupid and that their grades are proof of it. My response to those comments has been that their grades reflect that they aren’t even trying, not a lack of intelligence. 

This is really disheartening, both as a teacher and as a citizen in this society. I think that our society is giving up on trying to improve themselves and be better. I think that the older generations are giving up and their attitudes are affecting younger generations. As a result, people aren’t trying to improve, learn, or take responsibility for themselves. Everything is becoming someone else’s fault. In Duckwall’s talk on grit, she explains that gritiness is a better determiner for longterm success than anything else, but she also states that experts don’t know how to increase grit in others or improve grit. I think I might have her answer: a person needs to believe in his/her goals and that they can accomplish those goals, regardless of setbacks, and a person needs to understand that mistakes and setbacks don’t mean that the person can’t do something; it only means the person needs to keep trying. Our culture is losing this. Instead of seeing setbacks and long roads as challenges to overcome, people see them as signs that they can’t, so they don’t do anything for themselves. The situation isn’t going to get better until people change their minds and their attitudes. 

I’m not sure if I’m going to show them this talk on Monday or not. I do know that I’m going to discuss our test and the areas in which people need to improve, then I’m going to drill them on the literary elements and reading comprehension until I’m satisfied that I don’t need to anymore. All I can do is teach the material and give them chances. I can’t learn it for them. But I’m going to do what I can do until the end of the semester. 

Hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!

~MZimmerman

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