31 October 2012

Giving the Best

One of the biggest frustrations, by far, of being a teacher is watching the students be so satisfied with mediocrity that they pretty much never put forth any extra effort in their work.  No matter how much cajole, encourage, or motivate, and even with the threat of lower grades hanging over their heads, the majority of our students simply do the minimum amount of work that they have to do to get by, and they're unwilling to put forth the extra effort necessary to excel at what they do.  For them, the minimum is good enough, and they simply don't take any pride in the work that they do.

Of course, I'm not talking about all the students.  There still are many who take a great deal of pride in the results of their work, and in the work itself.  There are quite a few who excel regularly, and who make a point of pushing harder and challenging themselves in order to improve their skills and knowledge.

I don't think this is necessarily a sign of the times.  It's not a phenomenon limited to "these days."  I do believe, though, that the percentage of students who settle for mediocrity has raised, while the share who strive to excel has lowered.  This may not be happening at schools where the majority of students are planning on going to prestigious colleges, but from what I've seen in our public schools, there isn't a lot of emphasis being placed on excelling these days--it's a question of getting by.

And I have to think of myself and my life when I consider this reality.  In how many things do I actually strive to excel, rather than just get by.  Actually, in how many things should I or can I strive to excel?  If I try to excel at everything that I do, how much time would I have for anything at all? Some things just don't call us to excel--when I make the bed in the morning, it doesn't have to be perfect, and when I dust or clean or vaccuum, who really cares if I miss a spot or two?

But what about washing dishes?  Can I be careless in that, when the health of everyone in my household is potentially at stake?  If I change the oil in my car, can I be careless?  I can if I want to risk the entire engine seizing up, and having to replace it.  When I write a letter to a friend, who cares if I misspell a word?  Well, I do--and I'm constantly looking up words, even if I'm pretty sure I know how to spell it already.

I read a "news" blog yesterday that had several severe grammatical errors in it.  It was embarrassing for the author, but the comments section floored me.  When a couple of people pointed out the errors and commented that a journalist shouldn't make such mistakes, other people slammed those people, calling them awful names and saying that it's none of their business whether there were mistakes there or not.  These people were not only okay with very low-quality work, but they were willing to insult others to defend another person's right to do his or her work at an extremely low level of quality.

The question I ask myself is whether I want to be one who is known for a high level of quality, or for a low level.  I do make mistakes on the website from time to time, but they're due to typos that I've missed in the proofreading (it's very difficult to proofread one's own material).  And the agonizing question that I ask myself is "How can I get my students to care about the quality of the work that they do?"  If I'm not able to do so, they're dooming themselves to a future full of mediocrity, for it they're unwilling to strive for excellence, then who is going to want them in their companies doing work for them, unless that work requires no real skills at all?

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