Fall semester is again drawing to a close — final exams are later this week — and as I have done in the past, I will review some teaching successes and failures by loosely applying Simon’s ABC method to myself.
But I will start with a general impression about a changing teaching environment, based on my own experiences this semester and discussions with some of my colleagues. We are seeing incoming college students who increasingly exhibit psychological traits that hinder academic success: an inability to plan, a reluctance to take risks, a lack of coping skills and emotional resiliency, and a fragile sense of self-worth. Learned helplessness is just one manifestation of this phenomenon.
While these students might have the same innate intellectual ability as students have had in the past, they are far less confident about themselves and fear uncertainty to a much greater extent. And so they try to avoid situations they perceive as challenging, refuse to test themselves on what they might not know, and their academic performance suffers as a result. In my case, I have seen the overall grade distribution in my first-year seminar shift markedly to the left — more D’s and F’s and fewer A’s. Maybe this is a one-time occurrence, but I doubt it.