School is back in session and I have a whole new group of kiddos, including 2 sections of honors chemistry. These are the top kids in their class; these are the kids who most likely want to go into science (either get a degree in science or are pre-med). They are smart kids who believe a B is failing. Then they get to honors chemistry.
I’ll be the first to admit that chemistry is hard. It’s this weird combination of math and concepts and application that most students don’t see in high school. I don’t just require them to know the information, I require them to apply that information to new and interesting situations. Not all classes do that. History is just names and dates to these kids. English is just writing some stuff down. Math is just solving for x. And it’s easy for them. Suddenly they find themselves in a situation where it’s not so easy. They don’t have all the answers and they don’t always know all the answers right off the bat. It’s frustrating to them. I totally get that. I’ve had classes like that. But I truly believe that those type of classes made me a better student, and maybe even a better student.
I had a class in college that was super hard. It was called terrestrial arthropods and it was a 400 level class. It was the only invertebrate class that semester and I needed it to graduate at the end of the semester. I dreaded that class. For a week before classes started, I seriously debated if I should drop it and take a different class the next semester. But that would delay my graduation and I was done with school. So I took the class and I got an A. It was the most difficult, time consuming A I even received. It was also the best A I ever received. I actually worked for that A. I put blood and sweat into that A. I fucking aced that class, damn it! It taught me something (I mean, besides how to ID an insect and how spiders breathe): just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.
Ok, back to chemistry. So, I hear students talk in the hall. One thing I hear my honors students say is “that class is too hard”. And I have to think to myself “Too hard? We’ve done, like, maybe two things. They had to count significant figures and design a lab. If that’s too hard, well shit…” I hear it a lot in class too: “That homework was too hard. That test was too hard.” I’m trying to figure it out. Is it really too hard, or do they just not want to do the work? Sometimes, I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s too hard. It’s not easy, to be sure, but too hard?
My knee-jerk reaction is to make it easier. “Ok, I’m sorry it’s too hard. Here, let me hold your hand while I walk you through this step by step.” I want them to enjoy my class. I want students to want to take the class in the future. I want students to do well. That’s when I realize that I’m already doing that. Students do enjoy my class. Just today a student was telling me that they “loved this class” even though they weren’t sure about it in the beginning. I would be doing my students a disservice if I made it any easier.
My message to students is a simply one: Try harder. I know somethings it’s difficult and you don’t understand. Take a break. Go watch a show, listen to some music, play a video game. Then sit your butt back down and figure it out. Life isn’t going to get any easier and if you give up on something just because it’s “too hard” at first, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff in life. Besides, your A in honors chemistry will mean a lot more to you than in any of those “easy” classes. You just have to work at it.