Procrastination is the Thief of Time
In my last installment, I mentioned the “19-millimeter socket wrench” a mathematics student needs to bring success into his mathematical learning habits. Keep in mind that these observations and recommendations apply to mathematics students at all levels – middle and high school as well as college. Math is math, regardless of what course or level; good academic habits are universal.
Putting off what needs to be done is no way to take control over math. Students may procrastinate by not reading the textbook carefully (where every word and example is important), or by not doing their homework due to the following:
1. Fear of failure;
2. Fear of success;
3. Rebellion against authority.
Fear of failure
Some students who fear failure procrastinate to avoid any real assessment of their true ability. By waiting too long to begin work on a paper, or studying for a test, real ability is never measured – the rushed paper or unprepared-for test does not reflect what the student is really capable of accomplishing.
Thus, a given student can never learn the degree of “goodness” or “badness of his academic ability.
Procrastinators, however, tend to console themselves after failure, because it doesn’t feel as bad if one only studies for a test for two hours and fails it, compared to studying for a test for six hours and failing.
Another group of students who have fear of failure, and who are thus likely to procrastinate, are the closet perfectionists. Perfectionists usually set goals higher than they can realistically reach.
As an example, a student failing a community college math course at midterm decides to drop it and re-take it the next semester. He sets a goal to make an “A” when the next semester starts. Upon earning a “C” on the first major test, he becomes frustrated at not reaching his goal; he starts procrastinating in his math studies.
He fully expects to fail the course. This student believes that it’s preferable not to try to pass the course if he can’t earn an “A.”
Another example of perfectionism: Many students attend college after working or being out of school for several years. These people feel they have to make up for lost time by making perfect grades, and by graduating faster than younger students. These students look at “B’s” as failures, since their goal is to make 100’s on all their tests.
For the older perfectionist, making even a low “A,” or high “B,” on their math test means they’re failures, and want to quit college. Sometimes these goals are so unrealistic, even a genius would fail. Their motto seems to be: “If I can’t be perfect, I don’t want to try at all.”
Being a perfectionist is not related to how high a student sets a goal; it is, however, the unrealistic nature of the goal itself.
Fear of Success
Fear of success means not making an all-out effort toward becoming successful. This is due to a student’s fear that “someone” might be hurt or offended by his success. Some students become convinced that becoming too successful will lose them buddies and friends – so common at the middle and high school level. They “know” that they’ll feel overwhelmingly guilty for being more successful than their family or close friends.
This fear of success can be generalized as “fear of competition” in making good grades. These students do not fear the chance of making low grades when competing. Instead, they fear they will not be “liked” by others if they make high grades.
A math student may fear that, by studying too much, she’ll make the highest test grade and set the grading curve. She has more fear that students will not like her due to her high grades than the fear of just making average grades. Such students need to take pride in their learning ability and let others take responsibility for their own grades.
Notice the intentional use of “she” in the last paragraph.
Set the curve – somebody is going to. If another student asks, “How did you do on that math test?” Just say, “I passed.” Case closed.
Rebellion against Authority
Some students believe that, by handing in their homework late, or by missing or doing poorly on a test, they can “get back” at the teacher (whom they may not personally like, and whom they may hold responsible for their poor math performance).
These “external” students usually lack self-esteem, and would rather blame the teacher for their poor grades than take responsibility for completing their work on time. Rebelling against the teacher gives them a false sense of control over their lives.
These rebellious students fulfill their exact expectations placed on them by their real or imagined teachers – becoming academic failures. These students discover, often too late, they they’re hurting only themselves.
At the middle and high school level, some of these rebellious students, who start out by irrationally disliking or mistrusting their teachers, purposely fail to make the grade. They know that their “helicopter-like” hovering parents will come to their rescue and confront the instructor.
“You don’t like my child!”
“You’re a terrible teacher.”
“I’m going to the principal (or department head, or dean, or supervisor…) on you.”
I’ve heard similar tales from college professors as well. Why stop at the high school level – let’s “get that teacher.” Laughable, but too often true…
Students procrastinate for various reasons. It’s primarily a defense mechanism that protests self-esteem. Most students who procrastinate have poor math grades. By understanding the reasons for procrastination, a student can avoid it and become more efficient and effective in the learning of mathematics.
In my next installment, the issue of “self-esteem.”
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org