Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Ponderance: Frustration

Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.

Eric Hoffer

Frustration is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs." When applied to the Hoffer quote above it is revealing to look at ourselves and our students.

It is nearly impossible for 11-14 year olds to take a step outside themselves and see all the things they have in their life, from the financial and material to the social and emotional aspects of their existences. This is the reality of the middle school years: they are literally hardwired (or in the process of short-circuiting and re-wiring) to be self and/or friend-centered. One of the results is frustration.

Think about what we see from our students. Some feel like they are treated like kids, and only want to be 16 to get that license. While others feel like we aren't providing enough guidance in class - aren't outlining exactly where they should go, how they should get there, and who will hold their hand on the path. Still others are frustrated with their friendships, where they will go next year, what their coach said, what their coach didn't say. "A deep and chronic sense of insecurity" is the life of a middle schooler.

So how do we work with it - and it is a matter of working with and not against because, as JoAnn Deak reminded us last week, the science of the brain is not going anywhere and it says this is happening. Now, combine that with what Eric Hoffer says, the sense of frustration is often more deeply felt when we have more and want one more thing, than when we have less and want something. In Independent Schools we have a lot and the families who attend our schools, typically do as well. Therefore, our challenge to dissipate frustration in our students may actually be harder than in other schools.

For a moment, let's forget the developmental changes that each of these students are going through right now, which physically creates a lot of the "middle school behavior" we see each day, and believe that our students can appreciate what we have. They would see the world in which they live as tremendously positive, caring, enriching, and fulfilling. We do. They would be, for a moment at least, content. (Whether we are is a topic for a different blog.)

Throw the physical factors back in the mix and in order to get this message across we need to "shock and awe." Outreach and service learning is one way to do it. Special guests are another. Open and respectful dialogue between student and teacher and/or parents pertaining to the world is yet another. Have dinner each night and discuss the great things we have. We are lucky - exceptionally so - to be doing what we do, with the people we do it with (students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members). For a moment, let's be content with it.

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