May I Slap My Teacher?

When I was in my Junior year (the second one), I took an organic chemistry lab with a teacher that I will never forget. The teacher spilled acid all over my midterm project, and wrote a note in it that said “You will fail my class!”.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “That’s not possible! No one is that crazy!” Well, she really, really was that crazy and I knew that I needed help. So I took the notebook to the Department Head and explained my situation in detail. Before long, the instructor was removed from our class, and the Department Head taught our lab for the remainder of the semester. I even got a ‘B’ in the course.

Out of ALL the classes that I have ever taken, that was one of the wackiest teachers that I have ever had. Also, that instructor had a growing record of past issues. I learned earlier in my undergrad career that there was a professional way of handling things. I also learned that if I handled things in a professional manner, that someone along the chain of command would acknowledge my desire to handle things with integrity–and that I would be awarded the justice that I deserved. As crazy as your instructor might be, yo must always take the highroad while pushing your grievance higher up the authority ladder. Remember: the craziest person in the conflict wins the argument, but loses credibility.

Failing With Purpose: How To Properly Fail A Class

I’ve noticed that people have a very hard time admitting failure. They act as if they have never made a mistake–as if every day of their lives ended like an 80’s Saturday Morning Cartoon: A problem/villain, hero, obstacle, magic, and a moral of the story. It makes me sick.

Very few people admit that they have ever failed a class. As a matter of fact, even less people admit that they encountered a class that they almost failed. Let’s face it: if you were the only person to ever fail that class, then they shouldn’t give you a failing grade but rather an honorable mention or get-out-academic probation-free card. But you are not the only person to have taken that class, so you can’t possibly be the only one to have ever failed it. So what do I do when I am in a class that I am failing? Since I am not afraid to share, let’s talk 🙂

(a) Talk To The Teacher: This is the first thing that you should do and the most important. When I tell students this, most of the time they will tell me that they already have, or that the teacher is no help at all, or that they are afraid to. I have found that usually, the story is deeper than they care to admit. Sometimes, guys are afraid to talk to a pretty girl, but not for the reason that you think. It isn’t because she is pretty–it’s because he knows that she may have seen just how much of a jerk that he really is.

When you talk to a teacher, (1) how you decide to approach them (2) your previous encounters with them (and other teachers) and (3) how you ask the question will dictate the outcome. I have students who come in late, leave early, have excuses for everything and never take my advice. They come to me to tell me why they are doing poorly in my class and ask me what I plan on doing about it. Now stop just for a minute–do you see what went wrong already? At that moment, I have very little desire to continue that conversation. If that student had been attending regularly, was actively participating in class, and was seeking as to how they could be a part of the solution, then our conversation would take an entirely different turn. And even if your relationship with your teacher has been non-existent, starting one with a realistic and honest attitude which takes ownership of ones mistakes will create a sense of respect that could yield some pretty decent results. Remember: the teacher knows what you need to know, and they hold your grade in their hands so it is best to have a good relationship with this person regardless of how bad their jokes might be. Wanna hear an example of what to tell a teacher? Try this:

“Hello Mrs./Mr. ___________, may I have a word with you? It is about my performance in your class. I am totally lost as to how to move on from this point. I am finally learning how to study, and I have found that I really enjoy learning. I also enjoy what we have been exploring during class. For example, I like what you said last week about__________ and earlier this week about __________ because this should prove very influential concerning what I saw on the BBC about __________. But anyway, how can I truly begin to grasp the concepts in your class and learn on a successful level?” 

Smells like bovine feces, but so do your grades 🙂

(b) Admit That You Are Failing: In college, a “D” is passing unless the class is required for your major. So people often take the class over and say “Oh, I am just taking the class over to get a better grade.” YOU ARE DOOMED TO MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN IF YOU DO NOT ADMIT THAT YOU FAILED THE FIRST TIME. Our culture tends to re-name failure so that feelings are not hurt. Don’t fall for that crap–just admit the loss so that you can move on. Far too many people expect the impossible and call it hope, faith, and motivation. All three of those items require action–and if your actions have not been the correct one then you will gain nothing more than disappointment. As a matter of fact, some people who I see fail could have passed if they had simply admitted failure when it began. If you don’t admit that you are approaching a stop sign too fast then you will not slow down. You will then drive through the intersection, only to hit another driver. Had you admitted that you were going to fast to stop, you would have CHANGED your actions to match your reality. THEN, you would have had faith that your brakes would have worked…

(c) Figure Out Why: I failed an Organic Chemistry class for a very simple reason. The instructor that I had was a terrible communicator, and the Department Head of Chemistry found out about a month and a half into the semester. She allowed me and other students to transfer into other sections but it was too late–the original instructor was two weeks behind everyone else so I came into the new class two weeks behind as well. When we all realized this and it was too late to withdraw from the class, I stayed in the class and learned as much as I could. I then took the class over that summer and got a confident “B”. When I acquired a “D’ in another class, I realized that I had spent too much time studying incorrectly, and studying in the worst place to study–my girlfriend’s apartment. So when I took the class over, guess what I did a little differently?

(d) Don’t Blame–Just Change: If you blame, you will never change. In my book Make It Plain: Vol. 1 (https://makeitplainforme.wordpress.com/resources-to-make-things-plain/) I talk about the fact that something as simple as a conflict between your personality and that of your  instructor’s personality can lead to a less than effective learning environment. If that is the case, then change instructors next time. But what could you have done differently? Maybe sitting in the back made it too easy to get distracted. Maybe because that instructor was very relaxed and lenient you took advantage of it and came in late far too often. Whatever the case may be, you still need to make that change. It is usually something simple like reading the material before you have the class…turning your cell phone off…recording class and listening to it within 24 hours of taping it…stopping by the instructors office and going over the test after you get the grades back…things like that can change your grade by an entire letter.

(e) How Bad Is The Damage: What grade do you need to pass? How far away is your current grade from the grade that you need? What is the likelihood that you will obtain the test scores needed even though you have not been able to do that thus far? If you do not do tip (a) from above, then you will not be able to properly answer these questions.

(f) Keep It Real: If you have scored below a 70 on each test and you need a 95 to pass, then how likely do you really think that you will get a 98 on the final? You must be realistic in this situation or you will never truly understand what just took place. If you have had simply too many things outside of the classroom derail you, then that is fine. However, you must now figure how to overcome life while overcoming the class. Tow things will be your focus at this moment–Time management and Boundaries. I have seen students in divorces, custody battles, both parents dying, mental breakdowns, diseases, pregnancies, robberies, car accidents and more–and still pass classes. When we talk, they have these two areas in check.

They realize that there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week that THEY are responsible for. People claim that they have no time to study but these extraordinary people told me that it was more of studying when time was a available instead of when you want to or when it is convenient (ouch). Boundaries are all about how much of “you” will you allow others to have. If your boyfriend/fiance’ gets more time than your 4 classes then you will have a great love life and a GPA that sucks.  To fail a class is not to fail life–it is only one class. People fail in at least one area of life every day, so this is nothing new.

Successful people are not people who do not fail, but they are people who learned from their failure what it takes to become successful. If you do not do that, then you are destined to fail without purpose.

Excuse me, but do you mind if I date your study partner?

Last year, I looked at my old undergraduate transcript and saw a semester of classes that didn’t look that familiar to me. I kept looking at the classes and half of them took me a very long time to recognize. And even after realizing what the class was, I couldn’t remember who taught it or where I even took it. I was pretty bothered by this, until I realized that this was a semester that I dated…ALOT. To balance this newly found passion of mine, I was certainly not balancing my academic life very well.

When you are a “social butterfly” it is easy to do what you do, without doing what you should do. But this counteracts the entire focus of Discipline. Discipline is choosing to invest in your future now, in order to gain a return later. You will never become successful later if you are not successful at being disciplined now. I found that there are some underrated things that you can do to become more disciplined in your academics:

(a) “Find a place where you can be alone…that none of your friends are allowed to go or even know about.” I used to hide from people when I studied. They hardly ever found me. And if anyone ever did, I made that the last time that I studied in that physical location. When your mind knows that no one is looking for you, then it will not focus on trying to allow you to be seen.

(b) “Turn your cell phone OFF.” I cannot tell you how many times i watched people get completely away from their work because they were checking their cell phones. I still watch them do it today. They show up to study sessions that will last an hour, but spend 25-45 minutes on a cell phone. You should have just met that individual in person and texted your study group instead…

(c) “Never date someone who doesn’t understand and agree with your academic goals.” Some people inspire and empower you to succeed, while others simply drag you down. I have watched students date someone who dropped out of school, only for that person’s attitude towards academics to begin rubbing off on the person who is still in school. I’ve watched that influence go both ways too. I’ve seen the boyfriend who dropped out of school but picked up two jobs to put his girlfriend through school while I watched a boyfriend sabotage his girlfriends’ study time which led her to academic probation. Always stay mindful of becoming connected with individuals who do not value an education on the same level that you do. There is bound to be conflict.

So what you think? Are there any other tips that you feel that I should add? Post a comment and let me know!

One Of The Greatest Keys To Academic Success

On Friday I spoke on a Alumni panel at Clemson University about the keys to academic success. I had so many things that I wanted to say, but when I grabbed the microphone I knew that there would be one thing that needed to be said: Change Your  Perspective.

The perspective of a student can determine whether or not that student will pass or fail, excel or survive, tolerate or learn. Your perspective is such a powerful factor in overcoming an obstacle, that media outlets spend countless amounts of money to influence the mind. I changed alot of things about myself when I was on academic probation, but the thing that I changed that made one of the greatest impacts was my mind.

If you change your methods without changing your mind, then your mind will return to what is familiar–even if what’s familiar is what’s wrong. If you change the company that you keep without changing your ind then you will go back to bad or unfruitful relationships. If you do not change your mind, then you will leave places that hinder you, only to use precious resources to get back. You must change your mind–change your perspective–in order to fulfill your destiny of being successful. Otherwise, you will find yourself watching someone elses success while saying to yourself “I should have thought of that”…

At First You Don’t Succeed, Just Fail Again

One of the greatest dangers to taking a course a second time is the complacency that can build within one’s mind. You have taken this class before, so you should certainly know what is happening next, right?

I remember the first time that I saw the movie “The Blair Witch Project“. I watched it at night and in the dark. It scared the crap out of me, but the second time wasn’t scary at all. I knew what to expect so it didn’t really make me jump or duck or anything like that. However, some classes are not like that and this is what fools students far too often.

You see, that movie did not require me to interact with it–there was no work involved at all. I was not required to complete any tasks: I was only required to be entertained. A class is not a movie. You are required to learn and understand material, as well as perform tasks, assignments and evaluations of your understanding in the form of tests and quizzes. So just because you have taken a class before, it doesn’t mean that you will get an automatic “A”. As a matter of fact, humans are well know for being creatures of habit so you are actually more likely to do what you did the first time a second time. If you had poor time management skills the first time, then you are more likely to have them again the second time–unless you have done the following:

#1. Confession Is Good For The Soul: Admit to yourself that you failed the course. Now, get over it. Anyone can fail a class, and it doesn’t mean that you are dumb. If you put a world-renown biologist in a music theory class, he/she might be in for the fight of their lives.

#2. What Did  I Do Wrong: Now understand that this is about YOU, not the teacher or subject matter. What did YOU do wrong. I had a student who talked through my entire class every day. When they failed the exam, they told me that they figured out why they failed. “It was your testing format”, they said. Actually, no, it wasn’t the testing format…it was you. They never understood that only 3 people in the entire class made below a “B” on that lab test and that they were one of of those 3. Also, they simply could not stop talking long enough to even know what chapter we were in. The other students refused to study with that student, because they said that that student complained all of the time during our group work time instead of focusing on work. That student is an extreme case, but sometimes it is just as simple as knowing your VARK learning style, or reading a little of the material before class that let’s you know what your problem just might be.

#3. Request Backup: There were 4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, countless G. I. Joes, 4 Ghost Busters, 4 members of the A-Team. Just a few decades ago we were led to believe that teamwork made the dream work. Now, we are in a Jason Bourne society where it only takes one guy to topple an organization that once held them and everyone else under rule. But that is a misleading concept, and you are not Jason Bourne. If the evil Math, Biology, Speech and Western Civilization courses have banned together to deny you your freedom from school, then you will need to assemble a top notch team of Avengers to help you overthrow their regime. There are bound to be some other students who want to pass that class as much as you do…and they don’t have to be geniuses either. A dedicated band of misfits will work just fine…