Young People Ask . . .
Could I Be Doing Better in School?
“Grades are everything to my parents. ‘What mark did you get on your math test? What mark did you get on your English paper?’ I hate that!”—13-year-old Sam.
SAM is not alone in his predicament. Indeed, the authors of the book “Could Do Better” write: “We have yet to meet a parent who thinks their child is doing as well as he or she is capable of doing at school.” But many youths, like Sam, feel that their parents are putting too much pressure on them to improve in their schoolwork—perhaps even to excel. They may face additional pressure in the classroom. “Teachers don’t have enough patience,” complains one teenager. “They want you to remember things right away and if you don’t, they make you feel stupid. So I don’t even try.”
Young people who fail to live up to the expectations of parents and teachers are often called underachievers. And virtually all students underachieve in school at some point. Why? Interestingly, laziness or an inability to learn is not always the reason.*
Why Some Underachieve
Granted, when it comes to schoolwork, there are some youths who seem to be content just to coast along. “If I can do the minimum to get by,” confesses 15-year-old Herman, “I do just that.” In all fairness, though, not all these youths are indifferent about learning. It may be that they simply find a certain subject unappealing. Then there are some who have difficulty seeing the practical value of what they are learning. Reuben, aged 17, put it this way: “There are subjects that I’m sure I’ll never use again after I leave school.” Lack of interest or incentive can easily lead to underachievement.
There are other factors. For example, if a teacher’s pace is too fast for you, you will become frustrated. If it is too slow, you will become bored. Peer pressure can also affect how well you do in school. Explains the book Kids Who Underachieve: “If a bright, academically capable child wants to be accepted by a nonacademically-oriented peer group, he may feel compelled to underachieve.” Thus, one teenager complained that when he worked hard in his earlier years at school, others were jealous and made fun of him. Yes, a youth may face the reality of the principle at Proverbs 14:17: “The man of thinking abilities is hated.”
At times, the roots of underachievement run deeper. Sadly, some youths grow up with a negative self-image. This can result when a child is constantly bombarded with unkind nicknames, such as slowpoke, stupid, or lazy. Unfortunately, such labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies. As one doctor put it, “if you are told you are dumb and let yourself believe it, you will perform accordingly.”
Most often, the proddings of parents and teachers are well-intentioned. Even then, however, youths may feel that too much is being demanded of them. If that seems true in your case, rest assured that your parents and teachers are not trying to drive you crazy. They probably just want you to reach your full potential. Still, the anxiety of measuring up might make you feel like simply giving up. But take heart: You can do better in school.
The first step is to get motivated! To do that, you need to see purpose in what you are learning. The Bible says: “The man who plows ought to plow in hope and the man who threshes ought to do so in hope of being a partaker.” (1 Corinthians 9:10) Seeing the value of “plowing” through certain subjects is not always easy. For example, you might say, ‘I want to be a computer programmer. So why do I have to study history?’
Granted, not everything in your school curriculum may seem relevant—at least not right now. But try to take a long-range view. A general education in a variety of subjects will enrich your understanding of the world around you. Many youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses have found that a well-rounded education has helped them to “become all things to people of all sorts,” giving them a greater versatility in presenting the Kingdom message to people of various walks of life. (1 Corinthians 9:22) Even if a subject seems to have little practical value, you benefit from mastering it. At the very least, you will increase your “thinking ability,” something that will greatly benefit you in the long run.—Proverbs 1:1-4.
School can also serve to reveal your hidden talents. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Stir up like a fire the gift of God which is in you.” (2 Timothy 1:6) Timothy had evidently been appointed to some special service in the Christian congregation. But his God-given ability—his “gift”—needed to be cultivated, lest it lie dormant and go to waste. Of course, your scholastic abilities are not directly bestowed upon you by God, as was Timothy’s gift. Nevertheless, the abilities you have—whether in art, music, math, science, or other fields—are special to you, and school can help you to discover and develop such gifts.
Good Study Habits
To benefit the most from school, though, you will need a good study routine. (Compare Philippians 3:16.) Schedule sufficient time to cover an ample amount of material, but allow yourself an occasional break so that you can refresh yourself. If your study includes reading, first survey the material so that you can get an overview of it. Next, make up questions based on chapter titles or main headings. Then read, looking for the answers to your questions as you do. Finally, see if you can recite from memory what you have learned.
Relate what you learn to what you already know. For example, a science course can be a window through which God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20) History can help you prove for yourself the truth of the statement: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) As you apply yourself to study, you will likely find that learning becomes easier—even more enjoyable! Solomon observed: “To the understanding one knowledge is an easy thing.”—Proverbs 14:6.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Sometimes, though, underachievement is related to one’s choice of friends. Do your friends encourage success, or are they themselves underachievers? A Bible proverb states: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) So choose your associates wisely. Keep company with those who have a positive attitude toward school. Don’t hesitate to talk to your teacher personally about your goal to improve your grades. No doubt your teacher will put forth extra effort to help you do so.
When beset with negative thoughts about your abilities, consider the example of the apostle Paul. When people criticized his speaking ability, he replied: “Even if I am unskilled in speech, I certainly am not in knowledge.” (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6) Yes, Paul focused on his strengths rather than his weaknesses. What are your strengths? If you cannot isolate them, why not talk to a supportive adult? Such a friend can help you to identify your strengths and to make the most of them.
Progressing Despite Problems
“Give your whole attention, all your energies, to these things, so that your progress is plain for all to see.” (1 Timothy 4:15, Phillips) Like a father speaking to his son, Paul encouraged the already successful Timothy to make yet more progress in his ministry. In Bible times the Greek verb “progress” literally meant “cutting forward,” calling to mind someone cutting his way through bushes. At times, going through school may seem like that. But it will be much easier to take the path through school if you think that the reward at the end is worthwhile.
Effort, motivation, and learning go hand in hand. To illustrate: Think about someone who plays a musical instrument. If he enjoys it, he plays more. The more he plays, the better he gets, which in turn increases his joy. The more we learn, the easier it is to learn even more. So do not lose heart with your schoolwork. Put forth the needed effort, associate with those who will help you to excel, and take to heart the words of Azariah to ancient King Asa: “Do not let your hands drop down, because there exists a reward for your activity.”—2 Chronicles 15:7.
Youths who have learning disabilities may face special challenges in this regard. For more information, see Awake!, June 22, 1996, pages 11-13.
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Don’t hesitate to talk to your teacher about your goal to improve your grades
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Even if a subject seems to have little practical value, you benefit from mastering it