One particular paragraph strikes a chord with me. This is it:
"As I looked around at everyone else nodding along with the instructor (including my girlfriend), it dawned on me, I hadn’t failed because of the teachers or the material. No, I failed because I didn’t try. I didn’t even put my self in a position to fail."
I observed this happening to a lot of very weak students. How weak is considered very weak? Basically there are two types of students who are weak. One type are the ones who wanted to do well but somehow the knowledge acquisition is problematic. It's either the school or the home environment is too non-conducive to studying, or just studying skills, or lack of understanding of content. This is easy to solve for me, because at least the motivation to do well is there. I can work on this type of weak students.
Then there is the other type - the ones who are very weak because they simply do not care how they do. It's very very difficult for me as a tutor to work on such students because our goals are simply not aligned. You might ask why a student would have such behaviour and lack of motivation to do well. I believe it's a defense mechanism to isolate their ego from suffering further heart aches from failure. It takes several years of failing consistently to have such hardened students. The thinking is that since I'm going to fail anyway, what's the point of trying to study? And for some reason they want to try to study, and the results is still the same dismaying F, then the action and rewards simply favour not doing anything. Over time, this behaviour is reinforced until we have this type of students who do not care about their results at all.
The symptoms are describedbelow:
1. Empty blanks in the exam. A lot of them will leave maybe 50% or more of the paper blank.
2. Half hearted attempt. The default action is to skip the question, so any perceived difficulty in a question will result in the question being skipped. A long question (with many sentences and description) will be skipped. A question with difficult words will be skipped. A question without diagram will be skipped. A complex looking equation in the question will be skipped.
3. Sleeping during exams. Or going to the toilet frequently (if that is allowed).
There could be more, but you get the idea. The point is that it's very hard to help such students. Usually they are forced by their parents to attend tuition, which is always a bad sign for me. And frequently it's too late also. Such cases take the most effort and energy from me, and it's not about the teaching part that sucks up energy, it's actually the motivation part.
As much as I expect all students to come in all motivated and ready to learn, I know that kind of scenario is too idealistic. Maybe that happens 2 out of 10 times only. If I'm lucky. Most likely, I will have to provide that motivation too, besides the teaching. Thus my job to teach is multifaceted - I have to be the cheer leader, a psychiatrist, a slave driver, a disciplinarian, a teacher, a friend, a mentor... I think almost like a second parent. Is grades so important that we have to focus so much energy (and money) to get it? No, grades are not important, but a person's resilience against failure and want of success is. It's so important that it will affect their self esteem and how they navigate the failures that they will definitely face in their lives.
It's very easy to blame them and say that the students are not motivated, so how can I teach them when they are not interested? But I think it's important to own the problem. Even the problem with them being unmotivated IS my problem. How can I engage them further? How can I make them care? How can I introduce small success to make them want more? How can I make them like me so much that they won't want to disappoint me by failing? These kind of things made up the bulk of the mental work I'm doing as a tutor. Teaching is the easy part, while this motivational business is not. A lot of it is based on trial and error - if it fails to work, I'll try another way. After 12 yrs doing this, I'm still relatively clueless on whether I can motivate a student successfully. The chances are definitely far from 100%.
This particular year, I have 3 such students, which is quite a lot for a year. Usually I have only 1 such case per year! 1 is already passing, after failing for 4 years in secondary school. 2 of them is still in limbo land, and the national exams are coming in 2 to 4 weeks time.
I'm going to try harder to make them try harder.