Faulty Scholar, Faulty School

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Throughout a student’s academic career, the path they take to progress from youthful and yearning to wisened and learned will be one featuring many ups and downs. The student will experience anger and anguish, moments of brashness and boredom, spurs of claustrophobia and bouts of captivity - and those are only the alliterations. However, while many of these toils can be accredited to the student himself, such as procrastination or a lack of self-improvement, several others can often be inflicted through no action of the student at all, such as unhelpful, malicious teachers and personal conflicts affecting school performance. These culminations of issues, be it from personal fault, the school, or outside doing, can lead to a student’s performance declining, causing low grades or even failure of classes. A good question to ponder is just how much of each side contributes to the equation - which is to say, who is more at fault? The student, with his/her’s lackluster academic regimen, the school and by extension, its teachers, or is perhaps no one at fault, as who can consistently blamed for external issues in the student’s life? To take a closer look at this, I will be bringing three examples from my life where my academic career was affected each of these sources: An outside experience working its way into my final year of middle school, an extreme bout of procrastination in my freshman year of high school, and a passive-aggressive, malicious teacher in my sophomore year.

When I was nearing my third quarter of my ultimate year of middle school, I was in a place that most teenagers find themselves around that time: thinking I knew everything, whilst in reality knowing almost nothing at all. My days were spent nonchalantly breezing through classes so I could enjoy the lengthy recesses with my friends, before heading home to spend time with my family. When I think back to that time, I remember it fondly, but almost with a hint of bittersweet resentment seeping through — I’m jealous of my younger self, and yet I pity him too, both for the same reason: that there is so much he has not done yet.

However, the scenario in question makes me feel the latter of the two emotions towards my younger self — pity. It was a Saturday evening, back in the days long gone when Saturday evenings held a heavy significance: dinner with the family, game night, my father reading to us as we sat gathered around the table, giggling at the little additions he snuck into the stories to keep them fresh. On this night, however, no such readings were taking place, and rather, my father sat at the head of the table, staring blankly ahead without focusing on anything, my mother talking quietly to him in quiet tones from her seat to his left. My siblings and I had been playing some silly game, or perhaps reading books as we sat piled up on our living room couches, or some other activity we were prone to on such a night, but as the minutes passed and my father showed no sign of joining us, we eventually found our way back to the table to inquire as to what was wrong. My mother hushed us, herding us from the room with a stern grace that we did not see often.

By the next day, my mother had broken the news to us: my grandfather on my father’s side — a sweet, whimsical and nonsensical man — had passed away the day before. He was 87, but had never shown it - though his body grew old, he always kept a certain youthful charm about him. It may be uncommon to encounter one’s first close family member’s death so late in life, but it still shocked me just as hard. I found myself wishing I had spent more time with him, listening to his stories about the days before this newfangled technology, learning from him to use a pocket radio, and watching him as he sat hunched over his desk, magnifying scope in hand, staring at gems and jewels. He was a gemsetter, my grandfather, and though long-retired, he still enjoyed showing us a few intricate tips and tricks our young minds couldn’t quite comprehend at the time.

The funeral service came just a few days later, and as I sat, forced into an uncomfortable chair and a far more uncomfortable suit, I felt a sense of injustice at the world, a senseless anger, but my young self had neither the scope nor the patience to view it through such a lense. It felt almost wrong, almost perverse, as the next day, I got up, packed my lunch, and headed to school as if nothing had changed. How could life just go on, I silently shouted, questioning and fuming at forces I couldn’t hear respond. How could it? How could I return to everyday life when such a large chunk of it had been shattered, torn off like a slip of paper from a dog-eared notebook? I took my grief out on my work, and sat lachrymose, staring out the window, trying and failing to complete even one irritatingly vibrant math problem. This unfortunate cycle continued for a number of days, my younger self toiling in directionless anger and despair, refusing to do my work, perhaps in some vain hope that denying a return to normal life could bring back that which I so desperately viewed as a key component.

Grief can be a powerful manipulator of one’s actions, and can have a hearty affect on every facet of an individual’s life. A 2006 study by Purdue University, published by Kim Medaris, came to show that students experiencing loss of a family member or friend usually were undergoing an accompanying drop in school performance. “It’s the combination of grief interfering with the ability to concentrate and perform', quotes Medaris. And truly, the interference is monumentally destructive to an otherwise undisrupted student life, shattering what sense of normalcy the student may have acquired and plunging them into the unknown.

However, not every interference is outside of the student’s realm of control. As time went on, I completed my middle school education and enjoyed an all-too-brief summer before descending back into the pit of school life that now reared its ugly head, an insurmountable beast: high school. My work load grew exponentially, and with it, a multitude of stresses and worries: socially, economically, and even health-wise. I attempted to stay afloat and perhaps I could have, had I not succumbed to the many distractions that flitted around me, tempting me: a few hours of a video game instead of homework; watching a video on my phone in class instead of listening; or going to a movie with friends late at night instead of studying for a test the next day.

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The largest and most encompassing of these offenders, by far, is that ever-present, ever-nagging cardinal sin of procrastination. A 2007 study by Piers Steel, a University of Calgary psychologist, indicates procrastination habits in extremely high percentages of students, particularly when it comes to schoolwork. “Several studies in Steel’s 2007 meta-analysis suggest procrastination is negatively related to overall GPA, final exam scores and assignment grades”, reports the American Psychological Association. This report is something nearly every student can relate to, and not without a hint of guilt - deep down, we know that that failed test, missed homework or poorly done assignment is on us.

But as with grief or other outside influences, not every negative fluctuation on the student’s grade is of the student’s own doing. Rarely, but unfortunately not rarely enough, a student can be assigned to a teacher who doesn’t quite fit the bill, and have no choice but to bear the hurdles thrown at them. This teacher can be incompetent, with a teaching style that falls on deaf ears due to the teacher’s ineptitude, or perhaps the teacher may be like mine: outwardly malicious.

Following my rollercoaster of a freshman year, but scraping by with passing grades, I was prepared to metaphorically find a new, calmer ride to apply to my freshman era (perhaps a gentle merry-go-round, or maybe even leaving the theme park entirely). And it seemed I had found it, settling into a nice groove with my classes, friends and family — directly until I was a few days into my geometry class. Fresh off the heels of my freshman failures, I was invigorated with new study habits, prepared to pay attention, and armed with a homework planner. All too soon, however, this wall of confidence was bulldozed by the smirking, snarking teacher that sat, nearly motionless, at the front of the class.

A few days in, the alarm bells began to ring as my mind began to analyze this teacher’s regimen and teaching style. She never left her chair except to enter and exit the class, and her preferred method of “teaching”, if it can be called that, was to emit a page number to the class along with a string of numbers for us to read and solve. For four days a week, she sat, staring glazedly at the class as we silently (for we were forbidden to talk to one another) pored over decades-old texts, struggling to make sense of them without any sense of outside direction or order. When Friday arrived, the teacher would mosey into class as per usual, however instead of her usual numerical announcement, she would order that the students split into neat rows so we could take a test on subjects we had been forced to teach ourselves. Anyone even suspected of cheating off of student’s paper would be forced to tear up their own test (because for the teacher to do so herself would require her to leave her seat, and past a certain point each day we feared she had permanently become part of it, and couldn’t leave even if she miraculously suddenly wanted to).

My geometry teacher is not the only instructor that expressed such distaste and scorn towards her students, and she is not the only one to negatively impact her student’s performance. In every place of learning, there is a chance for such a person to exist, to wallow in their job, personifying cynicism and negligence. “What employer wants a lazy, negative, rude backstabber? That is why [the] most challenging staff members seemingly stay in your building forever,' writes Todd Whitaker in his bestselling book, “Dealing with Difficult Teachers”. The point Whitaker makes is a good one — where else will the teacher go?

As such, this loop stagnates, providing students with a difficulty hitch as hard classes are exacerbated by a teacher’s malignance or ineptitude. And it can naturally be stated that the student is not at fault for this difficulty spike, and especially not if such an increase pushes the class’s difficulty beyond their level of comprehension. Perhaps the teacher is at fault, for failing to improve themselves as an instructor; or perhaps the school should be held accountable, for hiring and maintaining this teacher as a member of their staff; or perhaps both are equally at fault. What truly is important is that students may fall behind and have their performance suffer, even despite their best attempts to keep up. When an environment is established to provide a learning conduit for students to listen to, and that conduit fails to transmit, the student can not and should not be held accountable.

While many schools set forth to educate and wisen their students, a very small number of these students will graduate without having suffered degradations to their academic record — and more times than not, the blame is wrongfully placed on the student. While it can be possible the student has failed to meet the required effort to perform well in their academic life, either by procrastinating or another means of a self-induced stumbling block, it is equally true that many difficulties students encounter are outside of their realm of control. From outside influences to starkly unhelpful teachers, school systems should examine and justify the sufferings of a student’s performance before immediately placing the blame on the student.

Works Cited

  1. Study: Grief Has Impact on College Students' Academic Performance, https://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060404.Seib.study.html.
  2. Procrastination or 'intentional delay'?, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2010/01/procrastination.
  3. Whitaker, Todd. Dealing with difficult teachers. Routledge, 2014.
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Faulty Scholar, Faulty School. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/faulty-scholar-faulty-school/
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