I’ve met many students over the years that started off with a negative mindset toward their ability in a particular subject. They would beat themselves up mentally. They considered themselves to be incapable of being good in a certain subject, usually math or science. One student that I met for the first time told me that he just could not do math but when I started to assess his math aptitude, I noticed that what he claimed was far from the truth; he was capable but just lacked some fundamental knowledge, which wouldn’t be hard to acquire. It was upsetting to see how some students brought themselves down. It was obvious to me that having such self-defeating thoughts would impede a student’s future success.
Failing at something is generally very unpleasant and disappointing for people and especially for youth. Since doing poorly in a subject leads to a state of displeasure and desolation, some students develop a mindset intended for them to feel less disappointment; they start telling themselves ahead of time that they are just not good in a particular subject. If they then do poorly on an assignment or test, they feel more in control because they predicted their own failure and knew all along that they were not capable of doing well. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Some students take on the mentality that they are just not going to try and quit on a class. Not trying or putting in minimal effort is just a defense mechanism for a deep-rooted fear of failure. The fear that if they do put in the effort but still fail that they will feel even more disappointed in themselves. This negative outlook and fear of failure is what is holding back many students that have the potential to improve and do better.
So what can a teacher or tutor do to help students change their outlook and attitude towards a particular class? Firstly, it’s important to reveal to students that you might know why they are not putting much effort into a class. If their fear is deep-seated, they might not even think about why they have such a negative attitude. It is important to share with them that many people take on a similar attitude and it is human nature to have a fear of failure. It is also important to communicate to them that the obstacle to their eventual success is not their aptitude but their self-defeating thoughts and beliefs. It is also worth letting them know that you don’t want to hear them speak negatively about themselves and identify to them when certain negative remarks that they make are just not true.
Secondly, it is vital to build up their confidence. This is done through giving them manageable tasks and praising them once they have successfully completed a task. It is important to start with tasks that you know they will be able to complete with minimal help, and then to gradually increase the difficulty of the tasks that you assign them. Students need to see for themselves that they are capable of improving and succeeding. It is also advisable to help students to track their progress and to show them what they have achieved in the time that you have worked with them.