You can do things you don’t think you can do.
For most of my adult life, I said that I didn’t want to own a house. It was too much responsibility. I was willing to “pay someone else’s mortgage,” as people kept describing it, if it meant that someone else had to call the plumber when the drains stopped working.
The truth was, though, I just didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could take care of everything that owning a house seemed to require: not just calling the plumber, but dealing with the bank, having the roof redone, mowing the lawn, finding an electrician, lighting the gas furnace, choosing the right insurance.
Turns out, pretty much anyone can do these things. I have yet to learn whether I like doing these things, or at least whether owning my own house makes them worth doing. But I can ask for advice, look up YouTube videos, and tighten bolts. I can learn how to paint a bannister properly and how to care for a birch tree. It’s a lot of work. Nevertheless, I can do it.
I find myself resisting tasks. I don’t want to put up shelves in the bathroom. It’s too much work. Then I realize that the work is not the problem – somewhere, buried deep, is the belief that if I put the shelves up myself, they will fall down. My husband seems to have the same conviction about his shelf-mounting abilities. Can we afford to hire someone to put up shelves? No. Sooner or later, we will have to go to YouTube and learn how to put up shelves that won’t fall down. Until we convince ourselves that we can learn to be capable shelf-putter-uppers, my toiletries are going to sit in an ugly cardboard box on the bathroom floor.
When my students don’t do their grammar exercises, don’t turn in their essays, don’t show up for quizzes, even don’t do the required reading, it’s sometimes because they are lazy or have other things on their minds. Sometimes, though, there’s a deeper problem: they don’t think they can do it, and I’m not showing them they can. More and more, I find myself breaking tasks into smaller and smaller steps and having students practice example after example, not so that they can “learn” the skill better, but so that they can see, “Hey, this isn’t so hard. I can do this.”
The problem of self-efficacy may be the biggest in education. This is not at all the same as self-esteem – you can feel great about yourself in general while still having a nagging low-level conviction that you can’t handle certain things. I do not suffer from low self-esteem in the least, but when it comes to re-caulking my shower, I have yet to persuade myself that I have, or can acquire, the necessary skill set.
Saying “I can’t do this” is, in many cases, what prevents us. Now that I have the house, I have no choice. Unfortunately, my students can’t turn to YouTube to learn how to be skillful readers, and copying an essay from the internet is not the same as learning how to write one. That’s what teachers are for.
On that note, if anyone wants to boost my self-efficacy by teaching me how to level a concrete basement floor, you know where to find me.
Image by Lajla Borg Jensen