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Reasons vs. Excuses

One of the most important things I have learned over the course of this year is the concept of the fundamental attribution error. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, here is a quick primer:

The fundamental attribution error is when your biased against the actions of someone else; but when you perform the same or similar actions, you have reasoning and can justify them in your mind. The most frequent example this is can be found on roads all around the world. When another driver is doing something wrong or makes a mistake, you immediately call them a name or think of them as “just a bad driver.” However, when you make the exact same move, it’s because you were having a bad day or the sun was in your eyes. Sound familiar? Of course it does. We all do this: everyday. 

So, why am I bringing it up? Finals. Finals. Finals.

It’s nearing the end of the school year for much of the country and students are in high gear to get overdue tasks completed, get their grades up, or just pass a class by any means possible. Often, I hear teachers, myself included, talk about the number of excuses we hear about why work is not being completed within the deadline we set. Yet, we ourselves are very good at finding reasons to not get something done on time or do our best work. Maybe we didn’t get much sleep because we were binging a show, so we put off grading papers for another day. Or, maybe we just gave priority to something else and put off work.

The point is, the only difference between a reason and an excuse is perspective. When it’s us, it’s a reason. When it’s them, it’s an excuse.

One way to help overcome this erroneous level of thinking is to sympathize with our students and remember their humanity. This isn’t just a student. This is a young woman who likes the way the sun looks as it comes through her window in the morning. This is a young man who likes the feeling of a new pair of socks. This is someone’s child who remembers the first time they rode a bike. Someday, this person will have a conversation about how much they miss those family get togethers. As an adult, they will sit around tables and have chats about horrible students who don’t pay attention and how much they miss the good ole days.

We all need to remember this when interacting with others, especially those who look up to us and need the stability we provide. While we cannot give them a pass for having things in their lives that hold them back, we can understand the position they are in; if we want to.

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