Success in College, Part II: Seven Weeks Later

Success in College begins with a Nurtured Heart™ – Part II: Seven Weeks Later

By Dr. Lisa Sharpe

Chair, Institute of Art & Design

Robert Morris University

This fall, I taught a group of college freshmen which included three 18-year-old males who were uncontrollable, shouting expletives, surfing pornographic Youtube sites in my classroom, and preventing others from learning. By applying the Nurtured Heart principles I learned from Dan, these young men began to see me as their ally rather than just another authority figure bent on dominating them. In just seven short weeks, their transformation has begun to take shape.

“Now I know what good teaching is,” one of the formerly out-of-control students said to me. “You know, I think I want to be a teacher.” “Me too!” chimed the young man next to him. “I want to be a teacher. How do we do that?”

I spent several minutes with my students going over the process of obtaining a teaching certificate and endorsements. They listened with rapt attention and began researching – because, of course, they had completed all their class work far more quickly than everyone else.

“Ok then, now that you want to be a teacher, you understand why I have to curb the swearing in class, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” one of the pair replied. “Gotta be a good example and all.”

This transformation did not happen overnight. The first weeks were very tough. One of the three, who had gotten into Robert Morris on a basketball scholarship, even told me, “You can’t control me!”

“I don’t want to control you,” I replied. “I want to be your coach. Does your coach tell you , ‘Oh, you’re so great! Look how you scored that goal! You’re wonderful!’ ”

“No,” he replied.

“Well, what does he do?” I asked him.

“He throws chairs.”

That was the end of the discussion.

The following week, he brought in an illustration for critique. “Does it need more work, or is it just s***?”

“Both,” I replied.

“Ok,” he said, “What do I need to do?”

Although these young men definitely need a lot of refining, the attitude adjustment is clear. They trust me to guide them, are OK with my “tough love,” and have even stopped swearing (as much… I’m still working on that one).

Why did they act out in the first place? It’s most likely that they thought I would throw them out of class, thus “proving” their uncontrollability. According to the NHA, every child wants the authority figure’s attention, and they had been long accustomed to getting it in a negative way; detentions, suspensions, poor grades, lectures, and harsh discipline. They were so out of control those first two weeks that I dreaded entering the classroom. However, I soon realized that these young men were quicker than anyone else in class. They were bored! Three steps ahead of the rest of the class, what could one expect them to do but play games and get on Facebook (and worse?).

I began taking them aside and showing them tutorial sites they could surf while I was engaged with other students. I gave them tougher assignments, I was harder on critique. I expected perfection. As I gained their trust, their behavior and work improved dramatically. We’re still working on it, but I know they trust me. They know I see them as successful.

The year is coming to a close, and I won’t see them again for two months… but when I do see them, I want to see that light in their eyes… kids who were told all their lives, “You’ll never amount to anything!” Kids from the inner city, who saw drug deals go down on their corners. Kids who have seen people shot. Kids who could easily slip through the cracks into a life far less than their potential. When I come back to school, I want to see young men with a bright future. Thanks to the NHA, I know I will.