Originally posted on July 28, 2014
A while back, the Internet was all aflutter about a child’s T-shirt proclaiming "I'm Too Pretty to do Homework”. Advocacy groups launched an immediate response and the item of clothing was pulled from the racks shortly after it had arrived. The protest centered around the complaint that if girls believe they are too good looking to work hard, they will devalue themselves and their abilities and others will quickly follow suit. While true, we must not be satisfied by only discouraging a store to carry one message tee. This is an issue that has been floating around for years that needs to be challenged every time it rears its ugly head.
Now, there is nothing wrong with looking well put-together and being a social person. Over the years, I have had students whose fashion sense and social skills range the gamut from geeky to graceful. Some come to class like they recently rolled out of bed while others appear to have just left a magazine cover shoot. It’s true that some families cannot afford nice clothes for their children, but that is different than the student who is dressed slovenly but has the latest smartphone in his pocket or her designer purse. All this is to say is that teens present their outer selves in many ways that may not be all that reflective of what’s inside.
The problem I have with the idea of being too pretty to work is that it simply is not true. No matter how good-looking they might be, teens will never have a job where they have no responsibilities other than looking pretty or handsome. The question is not whether the student is college-bound or has another reasonable pathway to success. What we’re talking about here is when student play dumb because being smart causes unwanted attention and differentiation. Our society might elevate the latest hottie or hunk to Greek god-like status, but that doesn’t mean we should. We must fight this urge with passion and vigor. While praising someone who is wearing a nice color or who is well dressed overall is one thing, we cannot allow the next generation to believe that looks are all that matter, because looks will not file reports or balance a home budget.
I get the temptation to want to be revered for appearance or athletic skill, but to hide behind them will only help in the short run. In addition to the wide swath of “regular” students who have sat in my class, I have had those seem to think their looks or some particular ability will exempt them from the responsibilities of life. What is interesting is that the ones who did achieve fame and success also worked fairly hard. My students who went on to be everything from professional sports players to a Rose Parade princess didn’t think a wink and a smile would make me give them a grade they did not deserve. Everybody has different skills and not everyone can get an A, but if they think they can build a life out of letting their looks pay the bills, they won’t have much to fall back on when those looks fade.
So, in response to the claim “I’m too pretty to do homework”, I would offer the following reply: No so much.
Originally posted on June 14, 2014
When I return to campus this August after a summer of writing and resting, I am scheduled to have several sections of freshman classes, more than I’ve had in a while. Whenever a new crop of students enters our school, it always fascinates my fellow teachers and me to see what is true about the group as a whole.
While one would expect a bit of excess energy that comes with the age group, we are very curious to see which ones are relatively serious about their studies and which ones are not so concerned about success. There is a perceived notion that at the junior high/middle school level there are not enough significant consequences for failing academically, leading some students to believe the first year of high school doesn’t really matter. If they fail a class here or there, it won’t be a big deal because when they have four years ahead of them, there is time to make a few mistakes along the way. The teachers and counselors will make sure they don't actually fail high school.
The problem with that kind of thinking is it’s only true in a very limited sense. Some schools have the option for remedial courses after school and in the summer, but if students begin to dig themselves too deep a hole it will be really difficult, if not impossible, to get out. While our most dedicated students are filling every period with strong, academic courses and taking summer school each year to get ahead, even the students in the middle of the pack know it is not smart to mess around when it comes to grades. In addition to being placed in a mandatory study period, spending hours during the summer or after school taking make-up classes is not the best use of their time. They might even need to transfer to a continuation or alternative school setting to make up the units just in order to earn a high school diploma. This is not a position they want to be in.
Also, let’s be honest here – some of the students who consistently fail classes are involved in less than ideal activities. Whether it is having a general lack of direction and tendency towards disrespectful or disruptive behavior or something more serious like substance abuse, students who don’t take school seriously can more easily be drawn into crowds unconcerned with their future well-being.
Let this, therefore, be a friendly warning to parents of students entering high school. Do whatever you can to make sure your student is prepared for success on day one of his or her high school experience. Make a connection with teachers in the first few weeks of class. Back to School Night is a great place for this to happen. Make sure they are taking classes best suited for them and doing the best they can in those classes. Include enjoyable electives where you can, but remember that focusing on the academic courses likely will help them in the long run. If you need an incentive to encourage their continued focus, let them know that if they work hard, there is the possibility of choosing a fun elective, teacher’s aide/office aide job or even an open period their junior or senior year.
In short, whatever you can do to keep them focus on doing well will do them well in high school and beyond.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.