A colleague is taking a math class. Although this is her second math class, she still doubts her ability, and each homework assignment, quiz, and test make her more and more anxious. She is not only struggling in the course, but she is letting those struggles take over her identity as well. She has started to label herself as a failure.
Of course, this is crazy talk. Besides being a math student, my friend has also done the following:
- taken all but two courses for her degree while working full-time
- recorded an album
- was once nominated for a Grammy
- is so warm and friendly at her job that students flock to her
- taken in stray kittens
- served on the board for a charitable foundation
You get the idea. She is a good person, a well-rounded woman, and a wonderful friend, and we all remind her of that when she begins to let her math struggles overwhelm the rest of her life.
But when the stress of the course takes over, it’s often hard for her to remember how successful she’s been and will continue to be. And she’s not alone.
I sometimes hear students call themselves stupid or failures because of their academic problems. When I talk to them, I find that they have raised or are raising children, working at demanding jobs, volunteering at their churches, or (this is Nashville after all) writing songs and performing. I tell them that I admire them, and they look at me like I’m crazy. I can almost read their minds: Crazy woman! Weren’t you listening? I just said that I’m about to flunk out of college. There’s nothing to admire here.
One of the nice things about working in our library is that we get a chance to talk to students when they’re coming to check out a book, check their Facebook page, or check on the availability of candy at the circulation desk. And we take these opportunities to remind them that, no matter their grades, they are still perfectly good people. The only thing a bad test grade means is that these perfectly good people need to study harder or differently for the next test. At the most, it may be an indication they might be happier in another major.
But I worry about those we don’t see or don’t have friends or colleagues or family members to remind them. So this is another thing I wish students knew:
This isn’t everything you are.