Nobody can give you an education; you have to take it.

I just finished another term of teaching. Most students are outstanding to work with. They are intellectually engaged, they are inquisitive, and they demand more from you as an instructor. These characteristics are true of students across the grade spectrum. In fact, students who are struggling but who are clearly fighting for their education because they want to learn are, in many ways, the most satisfying students to work with.

However, a small fraction of students who think they are simply owed a grade are the bane of teaching. I have had such students tell me that they worked really hard on a paper, and so they deserved an A, even though the paper addressed none of the issues specified in the assignment. After having never attended any classes during a term, I have also had such students ask me what they could have done to get a better grade.

I know it sounds trite, but it’s the truth: if you want to do well in school, you need to (1) prepare for class by doing all assigned readings before class, (2) attend all classes, pay attention and engage yourself mentally with the subject while in class, (3) study diligently outside of class and keep up with the work, and (4) make your education your first and only priority. Nobody’s going to force you to do these things. Nobody can give you an education; you have to take it. And there’s nothing magical about this. It’s just hard work.

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell were not great basketball players because they were the most gifted players; they were the best because they had a significant level of skill but they worked harder than anyone else at what they wanted to accomplish.

These same characteristics of success are true at every education level, from kindergarten to graduate school, and these work habits carry over to a person’s entire life.

All the education reforms in the world will be for naught if students – and society as a whole – do not value intelligence, intellectual accomplishment, learning, and plain old hard work.