The last few weeks of school is a huge, positive experience for many of our students as they wrap up the school year and get ready for summer. Most are reveling in the knowledge that the past year has taught them some very important subject matter, how to manage their time and meet deadlines.
But some students use the last few weeks of school leading up to finals to tie up the loose ends that have unwound around them for a variety of reasons. Most will find a way to scrape up enough coursework to get by and pass their classes. As an educator, we can get a bit frustrated when students wait until the last minute to finally get the things done that should have been completed much sooner.
For years, I would get frustrated along with the students because I wanted each of them to pass and get on with what was next in their life. To have that experience of knowing they have accomplished something was, I thought, rewarding and a natural intrinsic motivator.
However, despite the best intentions of those around them, some learn one of the most common methods of failure: helplessness. Psychologists refer to the condition as “learned helplessness” and have studied the causes, which include friends, family members, teachers, coaches or employers who try to do everything for the person, hoping that their generosity and kindness will help.
But too much of a good thing is harmful. Ask anyone who eats, exercises or is sedentary — too much. It is harmful, and while resting, proper nutrition and daily exercise are important for good overall health, the pitfalls of too much are obvious in our culture.
The best prescription, ironically enough, is to begin a program of learning to “help less.” If we offer support, guidance and the tools to succeed, we have to allow the people we are trying to help to learn how to help themselves. I can’t think of a better lesson to teach kids — and adults, too.
At least, that’s what I think.