Why there’s hope for your “reluctant student”

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Reluctant student trying to study

If you’re doing daily battle with a reluctant student, today’s guest writer will be like a breath of fresh air for you. It’s a personal story about how Elizabeth Noske, self- confessed reluctant student, scraped her way through to become a lifelong learner. The impressive list of letters after Elizabeth’s name is a bit of a giveaway as to how her story turns out. But rest assured, it began much as many of our own children appear to be approaching their studies… without any enthusiasm whatsoever. Incidentally, if you’ve ever been tempted to ship your reluctant student off to boarding school (me!), it’s probably not the solution…

By Elizabeth Noske, Dip. T., B. Ed., M. Ed., M. NL.

“Elizabeth is an excellent athlete, but I don’t expect her to pass her Intermediate Certificate.” This was my Year 10 end of year report. And it wasn’t too far off the mark.

Boarding school and the reluctant student

I was at boarding school that year as my family transitioned from a sheep farm in country Victoria to Adelaide in South Australia.

Every night after the evening meal, the borders were required to sit around tables and do our homework under the strict supervision of an unsmiling and vigilant prefect. But somehow, I managed to spend most of the evening study period staring at the wall in front of me. Or watching those around me who were diligently applying themselves to their homework.

It’s no wonder I wasn’t expected to pass….

The following year was not much better. I was back in the family fold, but still managed to avoid academic work (like the dirty four-letter word I believed it to be). Both at school and at home.

Although my plan was to go on to Teachers’ College, my motivation to knuckle down was slow to kick in.

Elizabeth Noske

Author Elizabeth Noske: from reluctant student to academic success. Image: Supplied.

No enthusiasm for Teachers’ College

I was the youngest of four daughters and none of my older siblings had finished high school, so there was no family pressure to succeed or excel. So, I became a reluctant student and basically did no work.

I did have the decency to panic somewhat as the end of year exams approached. I spent the last four weeks of my high school career desperately trying to make up for years of lost time. And once again, I managed to scrape through… by the ‘skin of my teeth’ as the saying goes.

So off to Teachers’ College I went. If you think this is when I started to apply myself, you would be wrong. I was constantly asking for extensions to due dates, piggy-backing on friends’ efforts and dodging work whenever I could.

Those were the days when you had to borrow reference books from the library to research an essay. Of course, there was never any left by the time I found my weary way to the library.

Usually, I ended up skulking by the return shute the night before the essay was due. To catch the books that the more diligent students were returning, of course.

I would scoop them up and “pull an all-nighter”. Then I’d wearily pass in my hand-written effort the following day – unless I had previously and successfully begged for an extension.

Once again, I graduated – and once again, I really don’t know how. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t really care.

Reluctant student - is there any way to encourage their motivation

A break for parenting, followed by a miracle

My few years of teaching were followed by the haze of parenting. Three children in three and half years. Most days I didn’t know if I was coming or going.

But eventually I realized that if I wanted to return to teaching, I would need to update my qualifications. So, despite three small children and a part-time job, I returned to part-time study.

For no particular reason that I can put my finger on, everything had changed. I found myself interested in my studies, keen to do well, always on time (if not a little early) with assignments and proud of my results – which were not half bad, in case you are wondering.

If you pushed me for what might have been different, I would say that for the first time I was able to choose what I studied and there was choice and flexibility to follow my interests.

Following my interests at last

A few years later it became apparent that a Bachelor of Education was now required of practising teachers, so back to the part-time study I went. My marks were high, my results consistent and no-one had to coerce me into getting the job done.

I won’t bore you with the details, but in the decades that followed I gained a Graduate Diploma in Special Education, a Master of Education degree and an Executive Master of NeuroLeadership. I was still studying in my mid-sixties.

A much younger person (also a teacher) challenged me one day and declared that she didn’t want any more letters after her name. I remember being both shocked and dismayed. “It’s not about the letters, it’s about the learning!” I protested.

Often, I would sit at home on a Saturday night, having passed up on social invitations, to sit at my desk with my books, articles and a glass of red wine. Not wishing to be anywhere else in the world.

Enjoying my studies and work

From reluctant student to lifelong learner

The transition from disinclined student to gaining high distinctions at master degree level was a very slow one and one I have not deeply analysed. I sometime wonder what my high school teachers (all of whom had significantly lower qualifications than I have ended up with) would think of me now! But there are a few important factors that stick in my mind.

No pressure

My parents didn’t put me under any pressure, ever. They just consistently supported and encouraged me to continue. They didn’t try to lead or direct me, they just quietly followed the direction I chose.

Well-balanced life

I had a well-balanced and rounded life as a teenager. I played sport, went out with friends, was active in the church youth group and worked in a variety of part-time jobs.

Nothing to push-back against

There was no social media, no computer games and no addictions; at least in my immediate surroundings. I don’t recall any periods of stress or anxiety, apart from mild nervousness around assessment times. So, I had absolutely no reason to ‘push back’ – there was nothing to push back against.

Similar friends

My best friend was on exactly the same trajectory, and we did everything together. If she was more studious than I, it was so slight that I certainly didn’t notice it.

What of my own three children?

You may be wondering, what of my own children? The eldest was student of the year throughout junior and middle high school and graduated with good marks, but did not go on to university. Instead, he set up his own business, which continues to be strong and successful.

My second child was the Caltex All-Rounder recipient in Year 12 and went on to university, but then became what I refer to as a ‘global gypsy’ for the next few decades. Only recently did she do a teaching certification and is now a science teacher in an international school.

There's hope for your reluctant student

My youngest was a sloppy student in the early years (perhaps he received the most maternal genes). He was in middle school, showing me something he had written, when I challenged him as the author, declaring that it was not in his hand-writing. He protested that indeed it was.

“THAT is NOT your handwriting,” I stated vehemently.

“It is now,” he replied. I was gob-smacked. Overnight (literally) he had decided to leave his virtually illegible scrawl in the past and write clearly and neatly.

Deja vu?? He went on to university and works as a computer systems engineer.

A good education is a journey

What can we make of me and my little family? Mostly, I think, that a good education is a journey, not necessarily a destination. For some it is a linear process, but not for all.

Where would I place each of us on the life satisfaction and happiness continuum? If there is a trend, it is probably not what you might be thinking.

The one that took the most direct route has earned the most income along the way – but is far from the happiest and most content.

Obviously there are many other factors involved, but early and even consistent academic success is not necessarily the key to happiness. Or even successful life outcomes.

So, enjoy your own journey and encourage your reluctant student to enjoy theirs, wherever it might take them.

+ + +

Guest writer: Elizabeth Noske

Elizabeth Noske is a lifelong learner and educator. She has had a variety of school-based roles ranging from primary and secondary classroom teaching, special education advisor and head of department, school counsellor, deputy and principal. Elizabeth has held school leadership positions in Australia, Indonesia, Germany and China. She has been a highly successful parenting coach for over fifteen years.
Her underlying passion is brain-based teaching and learning and brain-compatible parenting. Elizabeth’s qualifications include a Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (Special Education) and an Executive Master of NeuroLeadership.

Her first book, Mindfull Parent: Parenting with the Brain in Mind is an International #1 best-seller. It’s an exploration of the childhood brain; what is happening in young brains, where the development is taking place, and why they behave as they do. But most importantly, what this means for parents raising their cfacehildren in a fast-paced and unpredictable world. The book includes a toolbox of brain-compatible strategies for parents who value their connection, communication and relationship with their child and are looking for an approach that works with, instead of against the brain.

As a parent of three and grandparent of four, Elizabeth really does understand the daily challenges of raising a family and is passionate about sharing her knowledge, insights, and wisdom with as many parents as possible.

Feature image by Tim Gouw; Girl at computer by Kelly Sikkema; working in cafe by Bonnie Kittle; girl in classroom by javier trueba

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2 Comments

  1. Anthony Poschinger

    What an inspiring and beautiful deliciously nourishing story.
    I am 72 and I want to learn something new today and tomorrow and……forever…
    Anthony

    Reply
  2. Anwen

    Nice insight! A great encouragement to those of us still transitioning into that “learning” phase. I especially appreciate that your passion for learning came naturally – no force necessary. It makes me believe that no matter who you are, there is hope for all of us in our lifelong learning journeys!

    Reply

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