Every so often, we have a student who bursts into tears at the circulation desk. And it’s not because we’ve been mean. It’s more a matter of logistics. You see, the Learning Center is in the back of the library, and students who have just failed a test will often come by to ask directions to the tutors. And while they are asking directions, sometimes the stress of doing poorly on a test hits them, and they cry.
In many cases, the cause is the same: the first test of Anatomy and Physiology. These are students who are accustomed to doing well, and they are stunned to receive a bad grade. Also, since A&P is one of the prerequisite courses to nursing and other medical degrees, they start to wonder if maybe they don’t have what it takes.
We provide them with tissues and sympathy. But here’s is what I wish every student knew upon entering college:
All that stuff that your parents and teachers and adults in general told you as a kid about your being talented and smart may have unintentionally put you at a disadvantage. You may have what is called a fixed mindset. People who think they are smart or talented may believe that they shouldn’t have to work hard because if they have to work hard, then they must not be smart or talented.
On the other hand, a growth mindset allows for that very thing: growth. Working hard and learning are all a part of becoming proficient in anything. You are not expected to be excellent at the beginning. In fact, it’s normal to be quite bad when undertaking a new endeavor.
For example, let’s say I take up tennis and I have a fixed mindset. I go out on the court and miss most of the balls and my serve looks like a feather blowing gently into the net. I may throw my racket away and say I’m no good at this; it makes no sense to keep playing.
But if I have a growth mindset, I am still awful out there, but I didn’t expect to be very good because I am a BEGINNER. So instead of throwing away my racket, I make dates to play as often as I can and even sign up for lessons.
We witness this everyday. Most of those crying students dry their tears and make their way to the Learning Center to find a tutor. And they visit that tutor often. They often analyze what went wrong in studying for that first test and make changes. They see their instructor. They put in more time.
Usually, when we see those students again, things have turned around for them because they realized that one bad test did not make them an ignorant person. They had control over some of the factors for success.
I wish every student knew this.
For more information on mindsets, consult the book Mindset by Carol Dweck or check out her webpage.