Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Students on Board

Speaking honestly and critically about students doesn’t seem PC in a lot of ways, but I think it’s important. As they are of course stakeholders in the process of their own education, I’d like to address them as I have in the past few posts about teachers, parents and administrators.
I generally group students into two categories: those that do their jobs and those that do not. While these seem to emphasize behavior more than other factors, that is what the majority of my effort has been directed toward in the past two years and from what I can tell, it’s what drains the most energy out of most of the teachers I’ve met around here.

Those Doing their Jobs
These students show up to school nearly every day and complete tasks assigned to them. They might slip up once in a while, but they listen to directions and try to complete everything you hand them. They can be goofballs, they can be rascals, they can still make you want to pull your hair out, but they show up, they're respectful and they give you the sense that when they're given clear directions on what to do they will do what they can to get the job done.

They Struggle, but They work
Now, "doing their jobs" not imply that these are the best students academically. In fact, many of these students may struggle in school. Many of these students might not know how to read very well when they show up at your door, they may be void of critical thinking skills and they might not know a noun from a verb, but they're willing to try. Oftentimes these are my favorite students to teach. We are both in for a challenge and it's apparent, but the relationship we forge will help produce real results by the end of the year.

The Gifted High-Fliers
These are the professional students. They listen to all directions, are eager to learn and are great thinkers. Academics come easy to them and they could easily get by without pushing themselves, but they do anyway. While a small minority, these are the kids that can help pull along a class and really help a teacher support those that struggle, but work. In the de-tracked, full-inclusion model these are the ones that model great academics in ways a teacher doesn't think to as they relate to the other students.

The Bright, Albeit Lazy
These are probably the ones that are most in-between those that do their jobs and those that do not. While very bright, they simply do what needs to be done to hit C-range or perhaps a bit higher. Their potential is enormous and their delivery lukewarm. They always make teachers pull their hair out, especially if management is less of a problem.

Those Not Doing Their jobs
Students fall into this category for a lot reasons. Whatever the reasons might be, they show partial, if not total, disregard for the education system, their peers, their parents, teachers and themselves. The subdivisions I think of are the aggressive, the passive and the absent.

Aggressively Not Performing
These students tear things down for themselves and others. They refuse to follow directions, act out, demand attention and must be given it because if they do not either someone will be hurt or no learning will happen for anyone. They seem to follow as few rules to prove simply that they can, and in process screw themselves over as well as many of the other students. The most frustrating thing about this group is that they really do hold back those that struggle but work. While the bright and gifted can still get by and learn a considerable amount, those that struggle with academics and need extra differentiation in the classroom fall by the wayside because the teacher must spend time containing these fools. Of all the injustices one can find in the field of education, this might be the one that irritates me most.

Passively Not Performing
These kids sit in class (when they are there) and do absolutely nothing. Before I got to the Bronx these were the biggest "problem children" I had to deal with. No matter what you do, how you differentiate, modify assignments, give them something that any other student would find at least mildly interesting, they continue to sit and stare. When major assessments come around they oftentimes simply fail to show up and rarely complete them. To be honest, I think that social promotion has produced many of these students over the past number of years (how many I cannot say, as I'm still pretty new to this)- students know they'll be passed and therefore know that if they just sit tight and ride it out they'll be given a pretty easy option to "pass" at some point and them join their classmates in the fall in the next grade.

The Absent
These are students that simply are not there. For one reason or another their attendance is abysmal- sometimes far less than half of the school days in a year. Need I say more about why they don't do their jobs? I have a student on my roster this year who has been present less than five times. See my post on Grades in NYC for how he's still been awarded forty-seven percent of the possible percentage points in my class.

Perhaps it’s not that simple, but I hardly cringe at the students’ individual inability to perform academically- I wince at their inability to stop talking, listen to directions and then carry those directions out. A benefit to this simplification is that it does put it in terms that 99% of students can understand. By the time students come to me in the eighth grade, the vast majority of them know how to act appropriately in school, around adults, etc. We see this happen all the time when their parents come in or when we go on a trip. When they want to, nearly every student can behave and be considerate and be respectful of their peers and teachers for an extended period of time.

During my first year in the classroom I had fewer students who did their jobs than those that did not. There were some days in fact that things were so out of hand that I could count on one hand the students who were doing what they were supposed to. That's changed with nearly two years under my belt and a different set of students, but I still walk into class every day looking to support each kind of students as they need to be. For example, the High-Fliers need to always be pushed higher, the Absent need to be encouraged to attend and have their parents called about it, the Aggressives need to be controlled and contained, and the Strugglers need scaffolding, the most clear and concise everything and each and every student needs as much positive adult attention as I can muster.

Today's Wine: The Cabernet by the glass at Gina La Fornarina.


  1. It's funny that you think students know what to do by 8th grade. In high schools, teachers might say they know what to do by 11th grade.

    Kinda makes ya wonder what they're saying in elementary schools--and colleges.

  2. Holy sugar-honey-ice-tea, dude...killing me softly!

    You NAILED it. The only four-letter word I try never to use is "lazy."

    The next question is--are these behaviors hard-wired from the get-go, from early experiences with school, or can students choose change?