“People may hear your words but they feel your attitude”– John C. Maxwell
Recently, I’ve watched a couple of documentaries based around education. First, ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough?’ in which Chinese Educators took fifty Year 9 pupils from a British School to teach them using Chinese methods for four weeks. At the end of the month, the fifty Chinese School students and the rest of the British School’s Year 9 students all sat an exam and the results were compared to reveal which teaching method was most successful.
What stood out most for me while watching the programme was the attitude of the teenagers involved. The British teenagers seemingly took advantage of the nature and cultural differences between themselves and the Chinese educators, not the best light to show the group of fifty in, especially considering they demonstrated just how well they could behave when their own headmaster was forced to step in to put them back in line! “What does this prove?”, asked the Chinese staff, “that they can behave”. If they can behave, why didn’t they? I believe the answer lies deeper than rebellion against a system they weren’t familiar with. In China, PE is part of their national curriculum; if they excel in all academic subjects but can’t throw a medicine ball a particular distance, they may not be accepted into their high school of choice. In other words, your best may not be good enough. The Chinese method of ranking the students against each other didn’t go down well; the Chinese school’s star pupil who scored top marks across the academic board decided not to go through with the majority of the PE exam. I understand how she must of felt after working so hard in all of her lessons, I hope she understood that this was probably how the majority of the students felt during the lessons in which she excelled such as Maths and English.
The second documentary was ‘School Swap: The Class Divide’, in which a state and private school’s staff and pupils swap for a week in order to determine the real differences between them. What stood out most for me in the first episode was the variety of attitudes amongst the pupils from each school. The state school had methods in place to deal with unruly students on a daily basis while the private school admitted they rarely experienced misbehaviour to this level. One state school student stood out to me for saying, “when I don’t do my homework I’m saving my teachers trouble because they don’t have to go home and mark it”, it was a stereotypical teenage attitude at its finest!
I believe that in the UK we learn to shy away from what scares us. Perhaps if we were truly forced to try harder in our most difficult subjects, it would make us more resilient and perhaps improve our work ethic and attitude. From what I have seen, a lot of students adopt a fear of failure. What’s the best way to avoid failure? By not trying. If they don’t try then it’s no surprise to anyone when they fail but if they are seen to try their best and their best isn’t good enough, it’s embarrassing. This is a self-esteem issue! In China for example, the students have no choice but to face their demons, they are no stranger to their best not being good enough and their families and teachers push them beyond their limitations; try harder they are told and if that doesn’t work, try harder!
In Britain we lack self-belief and sometimes we focus so hard on our own ability or lack of it that we don’t have time to notice other people; mutual words of encouragement are forgotten or not offered. In the current schooling system there are often too many students per teacher to make real progress in this area.
So then, what can the students do? They could change their attitude towards themselves and each other. If we can show young people how to practice inner kindness and respect, their outer attitude might just change too. Teenagers spend increasing amounts of time online and I for one want to show them how social media outlets can be used in a positive way. Having a bad attitude towards school and work can lead towards unrealistic outlooks on their futures; students need to know that success stories come from possessing a great work ethic and not fearing failure. Moving forwards, I hope that young people can learn to respect themselves, their peers, their work and their teachers and grow more eager to learn.
Attitude is everything. Work hard, stay humble and be kind!