Wednesday, February 1, 2006
I’ve been re-reading the sixth Harry Potter book. When it came out over the summer, I was so anxious to finish it that I think I missed some of the essential foreshadowing. My daughter and I both believe (or really want to) that (oh, and here I will be giving away the ending, so if you haven’t read it, skip this paragraph) Dumbledore is not dead. I thought there was some information early in the book that meaningfully proved this, but I had to go back and reread it to be sure. In doing this, I have found that a lot of the book deals with a prophecy (from the previous book) and how that particular prediction of the future is coming to be only because one of the people involved is actively making it so; thus it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As Dumbledore wisely points out to Harry, it doesn’t have to be this way; you have more control over your future than you think. Without growing the really long white beard or wearing a robe to work, I hope to impart this wisdom to students. Your midterm grades in the first year are nothing more or less than what they are.
Last night we were extremely lucky to have Dr. Ann Webster from the Mind/Body Medical Institute come and talk to our students. Sadly, only fourteen students came to learn about what stress can do to their minds, bodies and souls. But those who came were greatly rewarded. She advised students (among other helpful things) to eat well, sleep enough and most importantly think healthy and happy.
I think this is a time of year when stress and depression are at a peak. After the first set of grades are digested, the acids used for digestion seem to turn on the students and start to eat at their self-esteem. Dr. Webster says this kind of negative thinking causes stress which in turn causes all sorts of bodily reactions. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up, you are more likely to get sick because your immune system is sidelined and most importantly, you are not at your cognitive peak for learning.
There is also a loss of spirituality, not in a religious sense, but rather in losing sight of your goals. Stress can make you lose your way and forget the route that got you to law school and the route you planned to take once you were done. In short, students may be thinking: “since exams have clearly established that law school isn’t fun and I have forgotten the reasons for being here, then what is the point?” This is where depression starts.
The words Dr. Webster didn’t exactly utter, but that I think sum it all up are: don’t let your thinking about failure become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students engage in negative thinking about their academic talents, then they are going to have less success academically because of all the stress involved in that kind of thinking. If students lose sight of what has driven them to come to law school, then this is all a very unpleasant experience for naught. Students need to think positively about their goals, talents and abilities. This will alleviate the stress and create a success cycle-a cycle where students can learn and feel best about themselves-rather than a failure cycle.
Mind you, this isn’t an easy task. I still have times where my imagination creates a far worse scenario than logical reasoning would suggest and I have to be brought back from the edge because my cliff doesn’t really exist. It helps to have people who can rein you in every now and then. A good support system is always helpful (and a good Academic Support system: priceless).
So the bottom line is this, as Academic Support professionals, we sometimes need to throw students a lifeline to pull them out of the cycle of despair and prevent their negative prophecies about their academic futures from coming true. Oh, Dr. Webster also recommended some really good dark chocolate for snacking. Now that is a treat, and after all, if the Doctor says so……(ezs)