Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What holds us back

When it comes to academic excellence, I am not the most demanding of mothers. While I would love to have my kids do well in their studies, I don’t get overtly stressed when they do not, as long as I know they are doing the best they can.
But even my rather lackadaisical attitude did not quite mask the disappointment I felt when my first grader proudly displayed the 0/10 he had got in his first dictation test. I didn’t react either way, but did spend an inordinate amount of time teaching him the next set of words. After all that effort, when all he got was a 3/10, I despaired of him ever getting more than that. After all the mistakes he made were really small ones – a pair of interchanged letters, dropping a vowel, or putting in an extra one – mistakes not too easy to correct.
The next week, we still persisted with the third set of words, and he managed a 7/10, which he followed up with another 7/10, and then a third. There was a clear pattern in his tests – he always got the first six words right, then ran out of steam, and made three mistakes in the next four. The waning mental concentration was reflected in his handwriting – the first words were neatly formed, and got progressively messier, till the last words were barely legible.
That was not quite acceptable to me. I didn’t care if he made careless mistakes, but I cared that his attention span was so short. Tried making him write the words a couple of times, but to no effect.
Then, last week, quite unexpectedly, he came home with a 10/10. I could barely contain my excitement, and didn’t attempt to do so. This weeks words, too, he learnt quite effortlessly. “Mamma, I’ll get another 10/10”, he promised. But I didn’t get my hopes up.
But he did come home with yet another 10/10, and the handwriting was so neat, the teacher gave him an excellent and two stars.
Even before seeing the words for the next week, he’s informed me he is going to get full marks again. And perhaps he will – he seems to have broken the mental barrier he had imposed on himself, and there is really nothing holding him back now.
Will I be disappointed if he gets less than a 10/10 this time? Not really. I know he can do it. I know he realises the importance of doing it. And I also know that pretty soon complacency will set in, and it would take a low mark to get him to start performing on par again.
But as long as he knows he can do it, he will continue to do so.
Isn’t it the same with all of us? Most often, what holds us back is not anything external- it is merely our lack of confidence in ourself.
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