Don’t write off your bad student

troubled student

We all have at least one trouble kid. Secretly, we might wish him out of the class (“maybe his family will move…”). Privately, we might enjoy sending him to the principal’s office (“now I’ll be able to teach!”).

But while the kid disrupts others’ learning, do we take the time to consider the needs of this bad boy/girl? Do we speak harshly to this person?

Maybe the reason why he/she is a class clown is because he/she is hurting. Maybe there’s no love at home. Or maybe abuse.

Are we so insensitive as to pile more abuse on top of the other abuse?

Yeah, I know. We get frustrated with the one student who is blocking the education of the many. We would rather just wash our hands of him/her and forget it.

But teachers do much more than just prepare students for standardized tests. And teachers need to focus much more than just helping your school to score higher on average so as to get more state money, or get that pay raise by scoring highly on average. We have to think about helping kids to NOT become criminals. We have to think about helping kids discover that they ARE valuable and that they DO have talents and that they CAN make an honest living performing a valuable function. You may not get a pay raise, but you are making a difference in what truly matters.

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The back story

rebellious student

The student who is rebellious, distant, not engaged… The student who fools around, doesn’t care, distracts others… The student who’s always on his phone and never brings a pen and paper… That student has a back story of pain.

Now we can justify ourselves for cracking down on him, bemoaning him, wishing he weren’t there because he ruins the rest.

Or we can try to find out the background. Did his parents just divorce? Was he bullied last year? Did he get beaten up?

If you can help kids quantify and deal with pain, you can give them tools to succeed in life. Teachers are more than relaters of information or preparers for standardized tests. Teachers are helpers of humans.

Never underestimate the value of your work. Your troubled kids may not score highest on the standardized test. But if you help them to not be a drug addict, you have not failed the system. You are a success and should feel proud of yourself.

His behavior comes from his hurt, not any malice towards you.

The $6 million student

value of studentThe kids couldn’t believe we didn’t sell the school building and just close the school. The real estate agent said it would fetch $6 million. Keeping the small private school open couldn’t possibly be worth so much money, they marveled.

Then I started class. “Each and every one of you kids is individually worth more than $6 million,” I told them. That seemed to score points with the usually cantankerous kids. But it’s much more; it’s a reality.

We have to teach truly believing that those students are the most important thing around. Then we’ll have successful and vibrant education.

Education is not about the pay

inspirational teacherI’m all for paying what their worth. But if you are called to education, it must be that moment of sheer pleasure of seeing the student go from ignorance to understanding. That has got to be one of the greatest satisfactions on the planet.

Yes, yes, yes. I hear you shouting me down. Incommensurate pay is every bit a part of our sagging educational system. Yes, when we pay teachers like entrepreneurs, will have our best and our brightest preparing our future. Ok, already, I’m on your side.

But I keep insisting, foolishly, that you didn’t get into this because of the pay. There was some magical illusion drawing you, some immaterial joy called HELPING PEOPLE. Not everyone is called to make the mega bucks. Some feel it in their heart and soul to give of themselves and see others rise above as a result.

Personally, turnaround cases are what keep me here. To see kids who would have gotten lost in gangs or drugs get turned on to academics, to see they CAN DO IT, to see them graduate, brings tears to my eyes and determination to my heart to keep going. How about you?

Individual learning needed

individual learning neededOf course the real problem with education won’t be solved by endless standardization, which attempts to address another problem of kids falling behind and teachers passing students who aren’t up to snuff.

Whether it’s called “common core” or “bomb bore,” centralization of a standard curriculum excludes individual needs. Let’s say you have a fifth grader coming into your class who can’t read. The logical thing would be for you to take the time to teach him to read. Meet him at his level. Don’t expect him to deliver at level that is way above him. Make him progress to achieve his maximum potential. That’s what teaching is all about.

But politicians get involved trying to “fix” education. Our kids are coming out poorly according to international tests. So we need to set basic minimums of performance. Upon graduation, a student should be able to find x and y in algebra and know what Pearl Harbor is. Unfortunately, he can only find the best vines and knows what Hulu is.

So in theory, we agree that a student must know a certain amount of material upon graduation. BUT, the standardization of the curriculum works against the myriad problem students. They are excluded from education because they don’t fit it. And you as a teacher, are pretty much not allowed to meet a student as his level because your curriculum is foisted on you. You can take care of individual needs. You have follow the recipe established by politicians who don’t know how to cook.

Being a likeable teacher helps kids learn

Likeable teachers help kids learnEducation is NOT just about picking up a book and reading it – if you like the book, you learn things. But education has to be right for a person; it’s an extremely personal thing: we like certain people for certain reasons and don’t like certain people for different reasons.

The same could be said about the classroom where a child finds himself. It is all about how the kid perceives the teacher and how she perceives him. If he is in a classroom where he likes the teacher and she likes him, then possibly he will listen and learn from her.

If, however, the teacher is the type who compares one of her students with another student and hurts the feelings of one (the one who was on the unfavorable end of a comparison) then the classroom/teacher isn’t working well because not only the feelings of one kid were turned off toward the teacher/learning what she had to say, but so were the feelings of all the kids who liked the kid who got so ill-compared.

It’s amazing how much psychology interplays with actual learning. We should never dismiss the adage that teachers are like second parents. Love plays a role in learning.