Growing pains. Students experience a wide variety of “pains” during their formative years at school. While some of them are physical pains, many of them arise from mental and emotional challenges. These types of adversities can range from personal scholastic struggles to underserved, negative attention. No matter the cause, each student will face trials of many kinds, and it is up to them how they will respond: rising as a survivor or struggling as a victim.
The word to focus on here is choose. When persecution comes from a peer or a teacher, or when there is a mental block in a certain school subject, the student has to choose survival. There must be a firm decision, a determination, a resolution to survive. It will not happen by chance. The student who resolves to do extra studying, or who determines to practice conflict resolution, that is the student who will overcome. It will take time and diligence, but that student will be stronger on the other side of their adversity. Their strength with come through as self-efficacy. “Self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief in their ability to succeed at a particular task or in a specific situation.
It is one manifestation of how past experiences shape how individuals come to perceive themselves and their capacity to have some degree of control over their environment. Self-efficacy is learned, not inherited. It is malleable, not fixed (Inside Higher Ed).” This self-efficacy will continue to ebb and flow as students encounter different obstacles at all levels of education and in a variety of fields. However, if the student can develop strong self-efficacy early on, they will be able to encounter future trials more boldly and more successfully.
Conversely, being a victim is less of a choice and more of a resignation. Yes, to some degree, the student who decides to be a victim is still making a choice, but it’s the easier choice. It’s an acceptance of a role that’s been handed to them, whether they asked for it or not. They are allowing other people and outside circumstances determine their future. The student who embraces their victimization is relinquishing control of their potential. Their success, or lack thereof, has been decided by a situation that they chose not to overcome, and so were continually subjected. Unfortunately, the student that chooses this route will be less likely to succeed in school and pursue higher education. Even worse, it will impact their self-esteem, their identity, and their self-efficacy, making it difficult for them in their future jobs and relationships. “For example, take a student who already struggles with self-confidence because they have an un-diagnosed learning disability. She studied as hard as she could and still failed the very important exam–now she feels even worse about herself and may even develop depression or anxiety (Solstice).” At this point, she would need to choose survival: in the form of a support group, a teacher, a friend, a family member. Otherwise, that depression and anxiety will make her their victim.
As Charles Swindoll states, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, education, money, circumstances, failures, successes, or what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”
We need to teach our students an attitude of “survivalist.” A determination that, though they may trip and stagger, they will not fall victim. “Many researchers argue that ‘resilience’–the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and challenges–is learned, you’re not born with it. This means that through deliberate actions, thoughts, and processes, you can acquire that skill. A recent study found that in some cases ‘learning to set and adjust goals and cope with adversity is more important for life success than improving cognition.’ Now, they’re not saying to stop reading or learning how to do calculus, they’re saying that these types of ‘resiliency’ skills are incredibly important for thriving in life (Solstice).”
Let’s teach resiliency. Let’s learn self-efficacy. At The Tenney School, we focus on the individual. We teach more than just curriculum and tests. We use one on one instruction to listen to students, hear their struggles and concerns, and do our best to fan the flame of success.