Student Success means More than just Skills, but Building Effective Anxiety Responses
Another day with students; another opportunity to make an impact.
There’s something powerful about teaching, advising, and positively coaching students.
My first semester working with probation students was unpredictable and devastating. I did not know what to expect: I was in the dean’s office almost daily trying to determine the best intervention for students whose GPA fell below a C average. One student started with me at a 1.0 GPA, and in his third semester, he was at a 3.0.
After completing weekly study and tutoring logs, that student showed progress; he made sure he contacted me by email or phone if necessary to not only hold himself accountable but for me as well.
However, what challenges me the most about some institutions is how they placate the failure of students and then racialize it, making the discomfort of failing without knowing how to recover partly to blame.
It is as if when institutions normalize the notion that college is not for everyone, and maybe it is not, our youth believes it without even trying. And, to some, this becomes just as much as a disadvantage as one’s economic status, race, or language proficiency.
By default, the pressure to succeed for a first-generation college student can result in increased absenteeism, high drop rates, and low enrollment, when there are no institutional supports in place.
But to my surprise, when I compare college to workforce development, there is a similar response: no human being wants to fail or drop out of college; the ultimate goal is to relate college to the workforce as best as possible.
When working with low-income students who aspire to be economically mobile and stable, you have to sit down and translate learning objectives in each class into workable skills that they can see themselves taking advantage of even as undergraduate students.
For example, I often say: transcripts are like credit scores; you reflect the worthiness of trust when your GPA is at or above a 3.5, as it is to a 700+. Your algebra class is equivalent to finance; you reflect how by understanding formula, you can master business and financial equations to help you buy a house, borrow credit, or lower student loan payments. Or, those coding classes in data analytics can help you create websites and charge for your services.
If not fostered from this approach, higher education is much like an anxiety-incubator; not every student is given the coping and success strategies in high school to embark on this journey alone. As a result, we will continue to see these types of responses, from fight or flight, accept or avoid, or even manipulate or overcompensate, leading probation students at the latter of each possible outcome.
In my opinion, less selective institutions need to do more to reward improvements; the expectation of too many students to be high-performing is detrimental to those who are not. To some advisors, it is less work, hand-holding, and quite frankly, unintrusive. For this reason, that is why I take a PBIS approach with students in their first two years.
As adolescents transition into college, they should be developing the discipline to be professionals and to dismantle systemic racism, also entrepreneurs. And college is the best time to learn skills to prevent gaps in competencies and skills in the workforce.
Today, two of my students overwhelmed me with joy because we are partnering to break barriers; that’s just the first step.
Like I told them, resiliency is a mindset you cannot teach; you can only reinforce. It’s an appetite to control your destiny just as much as a larger narrative that depreciates the intelligence of minority youth and denies them of the most critical ingredients to student success: self-motivation.
Some know while others may feel the urgency, but we can all agree: working with students across the education continuum is an honor and a pleasure, and one that requires you to be ready to think outside of yourself.