Don’t ask Siri if successful students have strong work ethics

After each Student Success Project presentation, I ask parents a feared question leading sometimes to uncomfortable responses. “Do your kids have a work ethic…of any type?” You know, the same type as we had when we were growing up.

I think it is safe to say that 13 years of school is a reasonable opportunity to start building a lifetime work ethic. Students learn what commitment to themselves is, how hard work leads to accomplishments, and that merit has both personal and external rewards.

A reputation for hard work and dedication travels. It is also true that word gets around about those who are known for substandard work. We all want to know who we can count on; who gets things done and done well. Businesses and higher education institutions are looking for them. They are the people who will succeed at whatever they do.

I am confounded by the student who keeps close track of absences right up to the point of losing credit and makes up the time only to resume the countdown of absences to the brink of credit loss.

Blind Impact

Some better-than-average students who choose electives to acquire more credits toward graduation later withdraw from those courses. They quit because the work is either not what they expected, is too difficult or cuts into their leisure time.

The constant use of cell phones, perhaps symbolic of life made virtual by all technology, seems to compound the problem. It has a powerful pull on so many. I see students leaving school early or arriving late texting and calling with practically every step they take. The need to stay connected at every moment trumps all other behavior.

There seems to be little grasp of the fact that commitment matters. Recently, a local restaurant owner who hires students mentioned that when student employees are given a raise in pay, they often choose almost immediately to work fewer hours. Rather than bumping their earnings by continuing their original work schedule at the higher rate, they now can take home the same pay for fewer hours.

I have known too many bright students performing below their capacity who graduate with a ho-hum record of achievement. They stun me with their belief that a change in attitude will follow once they have finished high school. They insist they will succeed in college or the workplace because more is expected of them there. Their work ethic will kick in because it must. To them, it is that simple.

An Easier Life?

Shaping a good work ethic requires setting aside immediate gratification and accepting the idea that the means to an end is not always by a person’s own choosing. Gateway situations, such as high school, are building blocks for the future. Making the most of those situations is part of developing a strong work ethic, a consideration that escapes many of today’s students.

Two decades ago, any person involved in public policy — especially public education —couldn’t get through a discussion without hearing a now out-of-fashion mantra: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” The question then and now is how can we be sure the villagers (teachers, parents, community members, and other role models) share the same values and beliefs? As a society, do we place enough emphasis on the connection between hard work, self-respect, and achievement? Is working hard even valued?

Or is it simply that life is easier? Can it be that what we used to know as a good work ethic is evolving into something else owing to the influence of technology? Think about it, but don’t ask Siri!

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project.

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