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