How Can I Be A Better Student?

A disturbing pathology has arisen within the American Educational System, both within K-12 and Higher Education. Policies implemented throughout all levels of the United States educational system and changes of attitudes within families are resulting in American students that are not adequately prepared for current or future employment, and worse, woefully ill-prepared to face the challenges of a 21st century multi-cultural globalized world. This is the first of a series of essays meant to identify weaknesses and offer solutions.

Honestly, unless one had a good teacher in HS, educated parents, or a close role model, the American Educational System has probably failed you, to some extent. Especially if this title drew your attention. And, I apologize, on behalf of educators everywhere. If I could go back in time, 20 years or so should do the trick, and be granted “Rule by Decree” powers, maybe your path would be more clear. I can’t do that, and now you – and no one else – is in charge of your life.

You can make tomorrow the first day of a new attitude, or Monday. Don’t put it off too long. Your future is at stake.

Here is advice, advice I have learned through my own mistakes, that I learned from others, from workshops, and from students. This advice will be controversial. Good decisions are not necessarily easy. In fact, there are no easy choices, and there is sacrifice, and trade-offs. You cannot eat your cake and have it, too.

  1. School is your job. Multiply your course load by 3 and that is how many hours per week minimum dedicated to your education. For example, if you are taking 15hrs of classes, times 3, equals 45 hours. 37.5 hours is a full-time work week. If you also have a “job,” add those hours to 45; that is an accurate assessment of how busy you should be. If you have other activities eating away at your time, add those. Then, you have to eat, sleep, and other chores like grocery shopping. There is a real probability that you are stretched too thin, and stressed.
  2. School is your job. Never miss class, unless you are ill and contagious. Other exceptions are field trips that are education-related. Unless you are a qualified doctor or donating an organ or bone marrow, family members can do fine without you. Another possible exception is a funeral. People who have weddings during the business cycle or academic calendar are only thinking of themselves. Dress appropriately for class, not in pajamas. Do not attend intoxicated. Educating yourself is in your own best interest. Prioritize your education accordingly.
  3. Eliminate distractions. Social events, and social groups can be fun but ultimately they are a tremendous time-waster, and a huge distraction. Membership in a professional group is not the same. Professional groups work to your advantage. An example of a professional group includes the American Chemical Society, or the Institute of Civil Engineers. Focus on your academic career and you have a chance of graduating on-time and on-budget, perhaps even a semester early.
  4. Eliminate Poisonous or Toxic People. Face facts; some people have toxic personalities. A person who says, “Let’s get drunk,” or “Let’s get high,” or “Let’s ditch class and go to the lake,” are signs that person is a toxic personality. A person who drops his or her emotional baggage on you is toxic. A person who tries to distract or belittle you from becoming educated is a toxic person. This person could be a so-called “friend” or a family member or someone in your community. I personally heard a pastor in church belittle education, saying that the Bible is the source of truth and knowledge, and science is wrong. Some ethnic groups face discrimination, bullying, and sometimes violence when members try to educate themselves. Blacks are often referred to as “Oreo,” for being “white” on the inside, “black” on the outside. Hispanics might be called “coconuts;” Asians are called “Twinkies.” All moronic labels; those people try to push others down, make them feel inferior. Cut them off, like the cancer they are. People that exhibit these traits are definitely poisonous, toxic, and will try to sabotage your success. Cutting them out of your life is not you being mean, you are standing up for yourself. Those people are self-centered, selfish, and irresponsible in attempting to ruin your life, hinder your success, and prevent you from working towards your own best interest.
  5. Get your emotions under control. Faculty will often sound mean and uncaring. We aren’t all that way. We are not grown in test tubes. Some of us could use more tact, true. Bottom-line is that our job is to help you understand, test that understanding, and correct you when you mess up. We do not get paid for being nice or tactful, we get paid to pass along knowledge, test that you comprehend that knowledge, and inform you when you screw up. I apologize for my self and all other faculty across the United States that have hurt your feelings. Honestly, though, you should really set aside that “hurt” and listen to the criticism. The criticism may not sound nice and soothing, but that input is meant to make you better, and is meant to push and advance your interest. Faculty are your ally, as opposed to those toxic people in your life. Many of us have such twisted lives that the toxic people seem sane, and those that are trying to help us advance ourselves seem crazy and delusional.Consider your personal relationships. If your girlfriend or boyfriend takes off, dumps you, the world will not end. Chances are they were dead-weight anyway. People do not control your feelings, your emotions, unless you abdicate that power to him/her. Why would you do that? Why would you give a person that power? Conversely, you get to choose how you react. You might go through a break-up, but you get to decide how you react to that situation. People have the right to choose. And, if your boyfriend or girlfriend is toxic, you will be the one doing the breaking. Move on; work on you success, and be successful. Surround yourself with other successful people.
  6. Sit in the front row. A few studies seem to indicate that your position in the classroom does not translate into better grades. A letter grade should not be the only measure of classroom success. Grades are used merely because grades are easy to measure. Students that sit in the front row are forced to be attentive simply by their proximity to the booming voice at the front of the room. Students on the front and second row pay attention, and ask questions. In other words, those minds are engaged, and that is what you want for yourself – an engaged brain.
  7. Study. That may seem like a no-brainer, but students think reading is studying. Reading is the preliminary work that you do before studying. Like getting the shower water the proper temperature before showering. Studying is a broader topic that. Studying means placing yourself in the role of a research assistant, thinking from the perspective of a chemist, physicist, a nurse, or a social worker, and using the knowledge gained, to date, using knowledge gleaned from all of your courses. Studying is not merely highlighting key words and phrases. A key word or phrase is like a fingerprint at a crime scene, a data point; now what are you going to do with that tidbit of knowledge?
  8. Ask questions in class. Ask for clarification, ask for examples, ask “what if?” Or, “why is it that way?” Asking questions does to things. First, your brain is obviously engaged, and being engaged, means your are very likely to remember the content and context of the discussion. Two, you come to the instructor’s attention. Remember, we are not the enemy. One day, you may need an employment reference, or character reference, or a background check. Faculty are your friend. Really.
  9. Use downtime wisely. Review notes while waiting on an oil change, while sitting in the doctor’s office. If you get to class early, review the notes from the previous class.
  10. Don’t study in bed. Don’t eat in bed. Don’t sleep at your desk. See, our body forms patterns pretty easy, and then breaking bad behaviors can be even worse, and take longer. Since you sleep in bed, your brain knows that sleep is coming up soon. Study in bed and your brain isn’t really going to be focused on retaining knowledge. Your brain is going to be distracted by prepping your body for sleep. Don’t confuse your living patterns. Eat at the table, studying at the table or desk, sleep in bed.

Ten ways of becoming a better student I have laid out for you. You may have seen all or some before. Some may seem selfish. They are not selfish. We have been poorly coached, or led to believe that being co-dependent with other people and their problems means we are being a good person. Myth, all myth. The problem of toxic people is a subtle and insidious problem everyone faces, and may be the greatest of all issues, actually. You will find, though, that nearly all successful people overcome obstacles, self-made obstacles, to achieve the level of success they have today. By putting your interests first, making progress towards positive goals, you will encourage people around you in positive ways. Toxic people will immediately reveal themselves by making fun of you, calling you selfish, arrogant, and accusing you of trying to be better than everyone else. If that happens to you, then you are probably on the way to being successful.


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