Friday, February 27, 2009

The Three Legged Table

This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on March 23, 2009.

I hope all of you had a great Spring break.

We are at the mid-semester point, with 3rd quarter report cards now out. Traditionally in high schools across the nation, 3rd quarter grades are the worst of the 4 quarters. JPII is no exception. Perhaps it’s the distraction of the spring sports season starting up. It could be the familiarity you now have with your teachers, who seemed more interesting in the fall. Perhaps it’s simply fatigue.

One thing that hasn’t happened: You haven’t become dumber.

Let’s be direct: Because you have excellent teachers and students before you have excelled here, JPII has earned a reputation in central Tennessee as an excellent academic school. Your ACT and A.P. scores certainly bear this out. But when we get tired or lazy, it’s very easy to go from “JPII is demanding” to “JPII is too demanding”. That adjective “too” is a subtle way of absolving ourselves from the responsibility to work hard. To be demanding means we must work. To be too demanding, well, then what can we do?

I tell this story often because it’s revealing: Every year they host an international math test, pitting the top high school students in each country against each other in a series of math performances. Every year, Japan finishes in the top 3 among the developed nations, whereas the U.S. finishes in the lower teens. One year, they did an interview of all the participants, and they asked each one a simple question: “You have been chosen as one of the top math students to represent your country in international competition. “What makes you so good in math?” Almost every American kid said something to the effect of “good genes”, or “my mother and father are good in math”, or “I dunno, I just see the answer”. Almost every Japanese kid said “Hard work”, or “We start very young and then go to private tutors”, or “They push us pretty hard.”

See the difference? Americans are apt to say that it’s something that happens to them, whereas the Japanese kids see it as something they make happen. And it isn’t just them. How often do we find ourselves saying “I’m just not very good in Math”, as if to say it’s God’s fault that we can’t solve the problem quickly?

There’s no pixie dust, no magic, no short-cuts to being a successful student: It still takes hard work. For those of you struggling right now, I want to make a promise to you. That’s right, I am making a promise to every single student at JPII right now who isn’t doing well. Here it is:

• If you do 90 minutes of homework every night (legitimate work, without the TV on, the cell phone interrupting every 10 minutes, without music blaring, without taking nights off),
• If you both in class and attentive in class (minimum of absences, trying to take notes, etc.) and
• If you attend tutorials faithfully

Then I promise you will not fail. I’ve been a principal for 20 years and have made that promise to every single student I’ve known at the end of the 3rd quarter, and I’ve never had to eat my words.

There are 3 legs that make the academic table stand, and they are all 100% within your control, regardless what your test scores are, or how hard or easy school is for you: Do your homework, Work hard in class, and attend tutorials.

JPII is demanding, but it’s not too demanding. If you’ve had a poor quarter, don’t pout or whine or put your tail between your legs and cry out how accursed you are. Step up, stand tall and do what you need to do. Your teachers here will do back-flips to help those of you willing to take the first step to help yourself. I promise.

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