post written by: Marc Chernoff

We Have What It Takes


We HAve What It Takes

This guest post was written by Sid Savara, author of Analysis Driven Personal Development.

Day One

The very first day of class, I walked in and addressed my students.

“You will be graded on your homework, weekly quizzes and two exams. I do not play favorites, I do not grant extensions, and I do not grade on a curve.”

One hand shot up “Is it true that less than half of your students pass?”

“Yes, that’s true. Last semester out of 17 students, 5 earned a B or better. You are welcome to switch sections if you want.”

Four of the students got up and left, but Albert, somewhat surprisingly remained. Albert was one of my students last semester. Last semester he wasn’t doing too well, and I told him he may be better off dropping the class - but he stuck it out to the end, and earned a D for his efforts.

I spoke to him after class again today, and he assured me this semester was going to be different. He was determined to do better.

Albert came in for office hours, frequently emailed me for help and struggled with the material. He did better, but continued to have difficulty with some of the same concepts he had struggled with the previous semester.

In the end, things did turn out differently. Instead of a D, Albert had earned a C, when a B was required to continue to the next level. He would have to repeat Introduction to Computer Science for a third time.

The Next Semester

The following semester I had a batch of 15 students - Albert among them. I gave them the usual speech, a few switched sections, but Albert stayed in his seat. I puled him aside after class.

“Albert, I hope you understand the situation. You could easily pass this class if you took a different section. You know that I grade strictly, I don’t accept late work, and I don’t grade on a curve. Are you sure you want to remain in my section - or would you rather switch?”

“You know, I appreciate your concern Sid. I’ll think about it” he said.

The next week he was back in class - my class. Albert was in my section to stay, but I wasn’t going to go easy on him just because it was his third time. In some ways, I was even harder on him. He was focused and tried hard, but he was no model student. His grades fluctuated from Ds to Bs, and I had to have the old mid-semester “Do you want to drop out?” talk with him once again. Once again, he opted to stay for the whole semester rather than take the incomplete.

Finally, this was to be his semester - he barely earned his B. I was proud of him - and a bit relieved I wouldn’t have him repeating my class a fourth time.

My Class Grows

After Albert made it out of my class, something interesting happened. A couple semesters later my section started to grow, and I soon had to turn people away because my section was full.

Why would people continue to sign up for my section when they knew they I was a harsh grader, and they stood a better chance of passing in a different class? I asked them, and learned that Albert had recommended me. Apparently, he was doing well in the upper level courses and when people asked him why, he told them he had learned a lot from being my student.

I had to go find out for myself what was going on.

Why didn’t you just switch?

I learned that Albert wasn’t just doing well in courses - he was now tutoring undergraduates in computer science. I caught up with him one day, and asked him for the full story.

He told me that as classmates struggled in the higher level classes, he was so thankful I had been hard on him and forced him to really learn the introductory material without passing him along. By letting him struggle, when he actually passed my course he knew he was ready for the next level, and that confidence helped motivate him in future classes. Because I was so harsh on him in his introductory courses, it didn’t faze him when later professors were strict with deadlines, because he was already used to it.

“I appreciate that, but you didn’t need three semesters to leaern that. Why didn’t you just switch sections your second semester instead of repeating my section over and over?” I asked him. “I gave you the chance to switch twice, and you know you could have passed in a different section.”

“I know,” he said, ” but I needed to know that I had what it takes.”

“If you can find a path with no obstacles,
it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
- Frank A. Clark

Conclusion

Albert may have learned a thing or two about computer science from me, but I learned a valuable life lesson from him. He already knew the value of hard work and persistence, but having him as my student has taught me that when you expect the best out of people, they’ll give you their best. People don’t want to be coddled, and they don’t want rewards they don’t deserve.

Just like Albert, many of us have the potential to accomplish great things, and will willingly struggle against obstacles time and time again.

We struggle because we believe the journey is worth it.

We struggle because we want to improve ourselves.

We struggle because we know we have what it takes.

Sid Savara is the author of Analysis Driven Personal Development, a blog where he discusses personal development, lifehacking and personal productivity. For more inspiration, sign up for his newsletter and receive a free copy of The Little Book Of Big Motivational Quotes.

Photo by: Greekadman

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22 Comments

  • Thanks for inspiring …
    Much appreciated

    Saidely / Kuwait

  • Sid, this is beautiful! I love all your writing, but this post in particular has a magical, fable sort of element about it. What an awesome way to illustrate the point.

    I find the same is true with parenting. When we expect the worst from kids, that’s exactly what they give us. When we expect they can do better, they generally do.

    Thanks!!

  • My friend introduced me to your blog last night. We were having a discussion about some obstacles I am facing and like always, he said to me: ” The Universe Laid out an obstacle. It’s looking at you and saying “Build your anti-bodies now for in the future you will need immunity”" It’s evident things happen for a reason because this very same post you created is one that I can relate to. Thanks for the great read.

  • […] across today written by Sid Savara, author of Analysis Driven Personal Development. The post, We Have What It Takes, is a tale of dedication and the lessons of struggling and working for something that’s […]

  • An interesting story. Though it might seem needlessly pedantic to continue along what seems like a hopeless course, persistence always brings progress in the end. Hard work is its own reward - it’s good to remember that not everyone will attempt to take the path of least resistance to a goal.

  • Sid, this was beautiful, and reminded me of a student that took my College Writing I course 3 times, when he had the chance to switch sections, too. Finally, he did pass, with confidence and more skills he needed to survive what came next. His perseverance amazed me.

    Would I have done the same at his age, when I could have switched into an “easier” section… I really don’t know. He thanked me up and down and always mentioned what a big difference I made in his life. And he, too, made a difference in mine. I was always grateful that while teaching students I was learning so much from them, too, in ways they could never have imagined.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Cheers,
    Miche :)

  • I recently went through this! I had a tough advanced chemistry course that I got a D in in college. It has always bothered me… so this semester (more than 7 years after I first took it) I retook it at my local university and passed… feel great just to know I do have the ability to learn something when I set my mind to it.

  • “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein

    Despite taking the same class over and over, it sounds like Albert was able to change some things in his approach.

  • Sid,

    I love the little recap at the end. It’s such a powerful way of reframing the struggles we go through in life - and, suddenly, it makes them look easy or at least surmountable.

    “We struggle because we know we have what it takes.”

    My new motto?

  • Wow….what a lovely lovely story with such an inspiring message about spending more time in getting our basics right! I have had the same experience myself with a subject I took in the University. In the end, by spending more time and effort in addressing my weak areas, I was able to do rather well. Thanks for sharing!

  • I really liked this story and the insights. It is easy to believe that it is beneficial to avoid obstacles entirely instead of overcoming them. The reality is that those times where we work through challenges that seem insurmountable are usually the times we grow the most. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of this. Great post.

  • wonderful moral. Really true. stretching limits only widens your horizon

  • I really enjoyed this one Sid. I didn’t realize that you were so hard on your students. When I was a TA for my computer architecture class, I took a completely different approach but with similar results. Great post!

  • The last 3 lines of your post is so true. I have had many struggles in my life, which I write about in my lifestyle development blog.

    I never really thought about liking the journey and still have a hard time seeing it that way, but I do know my journey is worth it and I will reap the fruits of all my labor and heartache in the end.

    Great post and I look forward to upcoming articles.

  • Lovely story Sid!

  • Hey Sid.

    This certainly is true. I can read this, think of similar examples to this, and know of the value that can be there in situations like this where it seems like a lot of time and effort was tossed away. We usually only do what we are ready and prepared for, and while Albert might have looked clueless for a period of time, he might have need to prove to himself that he was up to par in this setting before he could continue.

    These small goals we have, and maintain even when others think they are foolish or are missing the concept, can be the stepping stones our mind needs before we do things that are even bigger than those things people who saw them as foolish are doing.

    Cool and realistic example here.

  • Beautiful story :-)

    Also reminds of this Malcolm Gladwell quote: “Studies prove that “deliberate practice” fueled by “furious hard work” contributes far more to success in almost every field than innate intelligence or talent.”

  • Now that was worth writing!

  • Great post. Albert used forward-thing skills to rationalize in a way that most young people completely overlook. And his willingness to endure paid off. Wonderful!

  • Did it ever occur to you that your teaching methods might not be that great if students like Albert are unable to pass your class on the first and/or second go-around?

  • There are so many lessons here on so many levels. For example: don’t fear failure, don’t take shortcuts, and lean into the struggle and learn all the lessons you can. It will prepare you for greater things down the line. Great stuff!

  • I am a student and one day, I rashly decided to take three honors classes when in my previous years I never took any higher level classes. Reading this inspires me because I’m always disheartened since I’m not doing so well in a lot of my classes. Now I know that it’s worth sticking around and giving my best because I know that I have the power to make it through. :)

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