Feeling Pressure: Learning to Perform under It

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“One of my professors assigned two papers that are due at the same time.”

This from my youngest son, a young man who believes he’s headed into the marketing industry. I’m sure once he’s there, his employer will never assign him multiple projects that share the same due date.

Yeah, right. What universe does he plan to live and work in? Certainly not the American one.

In my experience, the best way to learn something practical is to do it. I know plenty about music. I can read both clefts, point to the notes on the piano keyboard and count out time with the best of them. All of this indicates I should excel at playing the piano.

Wrong. I can stumble through basic compositions and balk at the sight of more complex ones. The reason? I don’t spend enough time practicing the skill of playing the piano.

It seems the same principle applies to performance under pressure. This is why I said, “Welcome to the adult world” in response to my son, when I really wanted to ask, “Should we call the W-A-A-Ambulance?”

Education enlarges the brain’s capacity to receive information, but it takes practice to learn to analyze and synthesize that information into something applicable to everyday life. My son’s professor is doing him a favor. By turning up the pressure, he’s teaching his students to adapt and find a way to succeed.

It makes me wonder at what point in our education system this “heat” should be turned up? I think elementary school is too soon. Can my middle school students handle some pressure? A few of them can. Is this small segment a result of the fact that educational pressure hasn’t been applied?

I think middle school students are getting plenty of mental and emotional pressure. Physiological changes send random thoughts and impulses shooting through their nervous systems. Their brains are just starting to develop higher reasoning skills necessary for making good decision.

In short, they have enough pressure.

Unfortunately, the heat isn’t getting turned up enough in public high schools. It isn’t stiffer graduation requirements that will add the pressure. What they need to succeed is a gradual increase of expectations. (Something like turning the heat up under a frog, gradually warming him so he doesn’t jump out. Not that I want student soup.)

What generally happens is our eighth graders go to high school and flounder under the increased work load. Freshman year doesn’t have to be that demanding, but so many failed to apply themselves in the lower grades that they aren’t prepared. They simply don’t have the skills needed to crank out the required assignments.

As for my son, a sophomore in college, I have no sympathy. He does have the study skills and analytical abilities necessary to succeed under pressure. Sadly, he’s chosen to make the minimum effort at the last moment for too long and he’s not ready for real pressure.

It doesn’t have to be “sink or swim” in academia.

When do you think the “heat” should get turned up for students? What do you think about my inference that freshman year in high school should be transition-based, slowly adding work as the kids become accustomed to it?

2 thoughts on “Feeling Pressure: Learning to Perform under It

  1. Freshmen year should be a transitional year, but without a major increase right away of workload. That should be gradually introduced also, but not so slowly, the new high school students won’t feel some urgency in the expected demands, but at a rate the majority could still feel successful. Definitely increasing to make every graduate either ready for college life, the work field or proffessional training!

    Middle school is already so confusing with physical growth,emotional changes, hormones, plus another change in school environment for students, that the majority of them are already overwhelmed, under immense pressure to fit in, be liked, be normal; that it is difficult to add new learning to this pot!

    1. I couldn’t have said it better!

      Unfortunately, I see the local high schools slipping into two schools of thought. One compels the students to adjust right away or fail. The other babies them along for two long, never challenging them to rise to the heights required for successfully navigating college.

      In our high school, there are teachers from both camps. Talk about confusing expectations for the students who truly need mentors to help them through the labyrinth of educational choices.

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