Those who are afraid to tread new waters may sometimes need to be coaxed or even pressured to deal with the task at hand.
HAVE you ever noticed that the minute you decide you cannot do something, you can’t?
I told this once to a reluctant 18-year-old student but he refused adamantly to believe the power of this simple truth. He decided instead to go with the ready-made explanation he often used.
“Teacher,” he reasoned, “I can’t speak well and I get very nervous when I’m in front of the classroom. My mouth goes dry and I can’t remember what I’m supposed to say.”
I had asked him to be give a short presentation on the topic of chromosome mapping in class.
This is a sub-topic in the unit on genetics of the Form Six Biology syllabus.
A brilliant student, he was quick on the uptake and within minutes, could often understand what others took hours to digest.
As his teacher, I had noticed his acumen and intelligence. I felt however, that the one favour I could do him was to hone his oral presentation skills.
I knew he was hoping that I would let him off the hook. He wanted nothing better than to be able to go back to the safe world of his books and the hours of self-study he employed.
But, to me, this was not what a pre-university student should be doing.
Life was bound to get tougher as he grew older and faced more challenges.
At university, even if he sailed through his papers with flying colours, what would he do when hehad to make presentations?
Was he going to hide behind group members and expect them to do the talking for him? As any good teacher or parent will tell you, it is not an easy task to bolster student mood and instil motivation, especially where public speaking is concerned.
Finding your own level
But, if you are a teacher or parent who cares, can you also turn away from the task and hope that somewhere along the way, the student will somehow manage to find his own level (like water does) and survive?
I shared with the student the principle of “expectance versus acceptance”.
I told him: “I can accept your reason and expect nothing more from you. But, I want to do the opposite even if means hard work for both of us. I expect you to perform and I will accept no excuses.”
In life, if we continually accept defeat, deficiencies and defects, we can stop expecting quality.
I know that a good teacher must have high expectations in order for her students to strive and learn.
I used to read a poem about a girl on a swing when my daughters were younger.
It went, You start slow, with lazy pushes, and soon, before you know it, you are high above the bushes.
I loved the poem because my younger daughter at the time was afraid of going on the swing because she was terrified that she would be flung out. I had to cajole her.
There was an incident where she broke her front teeth because she stood too close to the swing.
She came home crying with blood on her lips but went back to “swinging”again, after some persuasion!
Both the poem and the incident emphasise the fact that when we start on a new task or are faced with hurdles that may frighten us, we need to first get the right “push”.
This push can come from teachers, parents or deep within you.
Even though I no longer teach actively at schools, I can see only too clearly how my daughters and students looked to me for direction, hope and courage.
They need and deserve effective mentoring.
Good teaching is, in fact, a spiritual obligation. When I use the word “spiritual”, I mean “imbued with the right spirit”.
When you “push”, do it with good intentions and let experience guide you as to when, where and how much to “push”.
Even if they stumble and fall, the young need to be pushed so that one day, they can turn around to you and say, “hey, look, no hands!” It’s like riding a bicycle, you see.
First you teach, coach, and walk alongside, then you let them make some tentative attempts on their own, correct their mistakes, offer more guidance and then, one day, off they will go!
They might not even look back to say thank you but I believe they will remember who took the trouble and who did not.
Looking for direction
For instance, I know I pushed this student to “perform”. I gave him tips, went through his material and kept telling him he “could”.
When the day finally came, the student did make a few mistakes (who wouldn’t on their first attempt?) and he practically read what was written on several pieces of mahjong paper he had pasted on the board.
He also began by looking mainly at the students in the front of the classroom but upon a signal from me, started to look further afield.
I was seated at the back of the room. When he finished, I stood up and started to clap. The whole class followed suit.
The boy blushed red. But, I could see that his face was also flushed with achievement. All things considered, he had done a marvellous job.
What I liked best and what everyone followed closely was his ability to answer a past year STPM question on the topic.
His intelligence came to the fore and he showed clearly, step-by-step, how the answer was derived.
I told him later: “Did you realise that when you did this, you completely forgot you were ‘on stage’?”
It was a light bulb moment for him.
Truly, it’s all in the mind. So, if you choose to stay absorbed in what you are doing and focus on it, you might even forget your fears.
As the famous American industrialist and inventor Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way you are right.”
By the way, I think the Inno-vation, Creativity and Business Acumen Skills Challenge segment in the RHB-The Star Mighty Minds Challenge national finals held last weekend proved just that, to those who took part.
Like I said, whether it’s an individual or organisation that takes on a task or challenge, it’s the “push” and quality that matter.