The Priorities of Success and Work

What if work and success were not necessarily linked together in that tight symbiosis that we once believed them to be? What makes you successful: hard work, focus, or is it to some degree luck?

Maybe it is understanding?

There are many aspects of work that are not at first apparent. There is preparation that is needed to finalize a vision but this requires aspects of abstract thinking that need to be developed. An interesting aspect of school work for senior high school students is giving them tasks that allow them to see the importance of "useful work," one aspect of learning that can be improved in the school system is to show a student what their studies will be used for. At the moment it is the alternation that is in vogue, because it offers precisely that to students, an opportunity to see what their future job may correspond to. Studies have shown they work more diligently at school because it gives them an idea how it will serve them when they enter into a career and how their work relates to them personally.

This is something that should be focused on more in the years leading up to graduation. When a student graduates high school it will be more challenging for them to acquire the needed skills "on the job."

The paradoxical observation that many make is that the lack of work equals failure academically. Alright. For students this lack is often denounced and often cited as the main cause of failure at school and yet its survey shows … students are not opposed to work. The solution then is easy. Let them work! Given them work that makes sense and you create a winning formula.

When an average student is given work that is purely academic, many, will apply themselves without a systematic effort to achieve the bare minimum of academic success. How many students graduate each year under their potential? School work deserves to be studied as an autonomous object to better gain an understanding of how we can better our academic institutions. Why is this a problem? Because the disconnect between how students study and how work is assigned needs to be taken seriously.

Many teachers fail to understand what do high school students actually do when they work. Does work and academic success always go hand in hand? Education serves many functions, one of them is to reduce social inequalities? Yet, would school work not better serve the pupil when they have a better grasp on how what they are doing now will be used later?

This goes beyond the question of homework as a tool in school and college, the function and sense of personal work of high school students is one that hones them for later life.

Alright. Some of you may now be asking: "What is school work?"

School work can be defined in four dimensions: multiplied tasks, greater uncertainty (for those in high school this is more pronounced than in college), the question of meaning, and the subjective dimension.

In the context of school work there are two aspects both equal to one another, they are: objective and subjective. Each one has aspects which are linked; the high school student engages in a world saturated with the message they need to study to succeed but at the same time this subjectivity also depends strongly on his objective place, one which is position currently occupied in the school system.

Now I know what you are thinking: "It is impossible to take this all into account when you are preparing a curriculum ." But is it really? The organization of school work is two sided. You choose based on criteria:

  • Subject
  • Level
  • Result

You work goal focused. If you want to teach your student about a Thomas Edison you do not start with Thomas Jefferson.

With this approach you can tailor your content to a student body but you are ignoring "how does this apply to me" the aspect out of the equation.

Many will argue that there are many variables that need to be taken into account for the concrete organization of the work of high school students: study time according to school performance, according to the social status, according to the gender, the organization of time throughout the school year, the modalities of management of leisure time, the role of the family and the peer group on academic engagement.

High school students try to reduce the amount of work required at home by being effective in the classroom, they enjoy working when they understand what it is good for, but this is more delicate, as management and organization of a double volume of work (work that is handled in the classroom and at home) depends on their academic performance and their high school life. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the volume of work outside the classroom that determines success, but the delicate management of school work without harming their personal world. Indeed, school constraints can lead to either partial or total resignations or invasion of the private sphere.

Personal work that is assigned to students with low teacher control makes a number of tasks uncertain, even implicit. Their success can be measured by how well they understand and manage teacher demands for academic production, where the final evaluation, which also brings its share of uncertainties. True it is difficult to "assess its assessment", to decipher the meaning of an assignment on the teacher's side and the understanding on the students' side.

For teachers this is especially difficult when students come from disadvantaged backgrounds who have a more difficult time managing these uncertainties because they are more dependent and confident about institutional injunctions, while good students feel more comfortable adjusting without too much problem with requests. Poor posture of bad students who are not rewarded for their efforts by grades feel they "know" without ever doing the right thing and anxiety can only grow through their school career. They are then condemned to constantly question themselves or to "work" at a task that feels random.

What is the meaning of school work then?

The meaning of school work in the capacity high school has been altered by the template structure it has that has disjointed and weakened the two great meanings of intellectual vocation and social utility. Today it is difficult to link motivation and orientation and to articulate the importance of a project in school and the project for which is corresponds to in the future.

One of the main short comings in the current system is through the diversity of meanings given to work that prevents them from being linked, it is more than simple academic achievement. Thankfully is is only semantic. There are two viewpoints when the meaning is defined; the meaning given by the student to what they do nevertheless remains an essential component of their relationship to work they are assigned. Or how they define "useful work" according to coefficients for example. This does not exclude any intellectual interest on their part, but it is difficult to praise it, it allows them to overcome – in the short term – the uncertainties of the meaning of school work and to maintain a semblance of mastery of a subject but does not solve the long term struggle.

The term is the subjective. One aspect experienced by the high school student – between academic results and the image that the results send back – to the majority of students their is a moment of hesitations (often painful) about their own worth, especially when their work is poorly recognized (sometimes without reason) and ineffective in terms of the academic evaluation despite their behavior which was in accordance with rules set down by the school system, effort and work equals success. In your adult life you would feel tricked in such situations and this feel is universal across age groups. Many pupils who have diligently studied and given their best feel played when it does not reap the reward that they expected. They sometimes feel that it was underhanded, which is difficult for the majority of students to overcome because it damages their self-image. Imagine for a moment you have started a new job and you are to receive $20/hr for your work. When you receive your paycheck you have a note that valued your work at 80% of the time you worked. In a professional setting this rare. Yet, academically this is how the system works. Has the student failed or has the system failed the diligent student? Think back on the teachers you remember positively, they are those who helped you develop your knowledge and possibilities. What is interesting is that this is a topic of many common studies and the personality of the teacher was irrelevant, no matter whether they are severe teachers or not, traditional or not.

School is an institution and thus the work is for the institution, a pillar of meritocracy. But as an institution it is more just, more egalitarian vision than the explanation through giving. Practical findings have shown a disjunction of the work-success relationship throughout the different social strata; you can work a lot and have a bad grade, you can also have a good grade without having worked. The feeling of this disjunction is stronger among high school students from working-class backgrounds and stronger among girls (who traditionally work more) than among boys.

You would think that the "average" student would be most highly represented. They are the one who is in the middle, average work for average results, yet they are not as highly represented as the student who works hard and performs poorly. These pupils are the most represented in high school and it makes up the backbone for many. It sets the tone for their academic experience and it is the most absurd and tragic because it causes, inevitably, a strong sense of injustice and personal devaluation.

Despite many commonalities between the students regarding their daily practices throughout the school system, the compulsion to manage a dual place of work in their academic career, that of school and home, the lack of mastery of the subjects being taught, the difficulty in finding meaning in their studies, the agreement on the "basic" requirement of obtaining a diploma and the instability of their interest in course material, students from working-class backgrounds face specific difficulties. Indeed, the management of the implicit nature given is inseparable from socio-cultural conveniences and the meaning applied to school work is not the same, depending on whether the investment in a person's longterm schooling is made in harmony with family or in tension with them.

These socio-cultural gaps play a major role in the increased educational inequalities that exist in our country.

Before you make the assumption that this is not a fault of the system, let me add that students in high school do not work differently according to subjects and teachers, but they have constant anxiety to understand and adapt to teacher demands regardless of how well disciplined they are, diligence. The more or less direct the pedagogical style of teachers does not change this, nor does it, in large numbers, affect the work itself. The interpersonal relationships that teachers develop and with their students, and the sense that they have, whether or not they recognize their work or their efforts, are more important to the overall performance.

Further more, the amount of work required of high school students is often unrealistic and is assigned without consultation between teachers. This creates a scenario that pushes students to make instrumental choices that will be harmful to them afterwards.

Yet little is being changed to improve success.

The institution does not seem to contemplate this problem, and there is but one proposed solution: increased investment in work. This is a solution that can only bear fruit in the long run. It advocates a reflection on the obsession grades.

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