There is a freshman in high school who is a fantastic writer. She is a voracious reader and studies her craft. She has received positive feedback from a variety of people, all of which has contributed to her confidence. Like most writers, she argues in favor of some grammatical conventions while disregarding others that don’t suit her. Throughout elementary school and middle school, her teachers encouraged her to experiment and metaphorically, sometimes literally, write in the margins.
High school, unfortunately, is not as creative, and she has been clashing with the assigned student-teacher in her humanities class. Put aside the existence of a student-teacher in a high school class, and leave the mystery of where the “real teacher” is, unsolved. The freshman has been regularly annoyed, because the student-teacher is beholden to a rubric, which makes her well-meaning instruction haphazard. Not only is the freshman far ahead of the current standard, she is, by most accounts, a better writer than the instructor.
The problem isn’t solely with artistic differences; the instructor is also the one assigning grades (those are like mini performance reviews, for those of you who’ve been away from academia for a while). The grading seems to be subjective and erratic, and when using numerical scales to rate several grammatical concepts, frequently added incorrectly. These occurrences are maddening for a high-achiever who excels at her craft. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there at some point in our career. It sounds like training on how to work for a difficult boss.
The freshman has a choice. She could go along with it and ‘play-the game’ to get As, even if the paragraphs are too long or strong transition words get weakened in editing sessions by less talented people. In other words, be correct, even if it is not right. Or, she can argue about everything she knows she is right on, but get Cs, because she refuses to become mediocre. A cruel irony in too many American schools.
Previous teachers warned her high school would be this way. High schools are often immovable institutions, entrenched in mass production. She had been urged her to play by the rules, even if they’re dumb because grades in high school are much more important than those in middle school. Sad, yet realistic advice.
She’ll have to choose her battles wisely; to fight for factual, concrete things, not merely on principle. And she must learn how to redirect the student-teacher, so time isn’t wasted ‘helping’ her on things she has already mastered.
It is a crucial period in her character development, where support and coaching play an important role. On one hand, the freshman’s spirits could get crushed. If she were a less confident person, the sheer relentlessness would wear her down. Even now, there’s a concern about eventual apathy and “what’s-the-point-ism” setting in. On the other hand, if she sticks to her beliefs, there’s a risk, albeit small, that she’ll miss out on some learning because she’ll become clouded with dogma.
It’s unfortunate she has to address this dilemma so early in life. Corporate America produces millions of employees who must navigate the effects of ineffectual leadership daily. Regrettably, most are ill-equipped for the task. I am confident this particular freshman will chart a winning course. When the time comes for her to face an inevitably similar challenge in the workplace, she’ll be far better prepared to lessen the negative impact of poor leadership.
Karl Bimshas is an Executive Accountability Partner who helps new leaders and leaders in transition to act on purpose, not by accident. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit;Strategies to get over yourself“.