A teacher’s calling is to recognize each of these types (and combinations thereof)
and reach out with encouragement, challenge and recommendations to appropriate resources.
[NOTE to reader: This week’s post comes from my forthcoming book (work-in-progress) on mentoring faculty. In the weeks/months ahead look for posts on this blog that relate to the topic of effective teaching and mentoring faculty. As always, I appreciate your comments. Make it a great week!]
As cliché as it sounds, classroom teachers will have all types of students in their classes. I did the following demonstration the first day of the semester for my students.
Three student volunteers each hold one class of water. Into the first glass I drop an aspirin; glass two gets the type of effervescent tablet that explodes with bubbles and fizz; and into the third I drop a tablet that is used to clean dentures (it fizzes and changes the color of the water). I then explain that each tablet represents types of students who walk through our classroom doors.
*Student #1 (aspirin): Sits there. Not much happening—not much in the way of participation or other form of engagement. Not much impact on the environment. Much like the aspirin. Kind of just sitting there (in the back of the room). Some days he quietly puts his head down and sleeps. No splash of any kind.
*Student #2 (effervescent tablet): Makes an initial splash. Energetic; participatory; probably has all the technological tools (smart phone, tablet, and laptop). May even sit in the first couple rows of the classroom. The initial enthusiasm gives way around weeks 3 or 4. Feeling overwhelmed with all she has bitten off this semester, she starts getting to class late and missing assignments. She cannot sustain the initial momentum.
*Student #3 (effervescent + color changing tablet): Starts off strong and eventually begins to make changes that are visible (more confident; higher assignment and test grades; leadership role in class). She always participates. Not only does she grow with her changes, she has an impact on the class as well.
I then pose these questions to my students: “Why do you believe these students have behaved in the ways shown here? Where do you stand (or sit) in this scenario? Which student are you—and moreover, which student do you want to be at the end of the semester?”
It is possible for all three tablets to be a metaphor for one student who starts off tentative and cautious; then gets a spurt of energy and inspiration; and eventually is a change agent for himself and the classroom (and maybe even the campus).
The demonstration, if left to itself, can be overly simplistic. Reality is that we have as many types of students as the number that walk into the room. This exercise does open up the conversation of why some students behave as they do and how those actions lead to long-term consequences. And what teachers can do.
Video recommendation for the week:
The list of what great teachers do is long and includes: inspire, encourage, listen, model, coach, energize, risk, create, laugh, and lead. I stumbled on this powerful video. Take a few minutes and absorb the message.
Whether you are a classroom teacher, a corporate trainer, or a community activist you will have to collaborate (eventually) with each of the above scenarios. What is the best way to encourage the best from each? Consider these questions as starting points for a larger conversation with your colleagues:
- Student #1. Would you just ignore him? Why might he be acting in this manner? What would you say to him? Or would you ignore him and let him sleep? Why do you think he behaves in the way he does? Is he sleeping because of late night partying, disinterest—or is there a health (physical and/or emotional) or substance abuse problem? Is he a risk to himself or others in the classroom? Does he feel intimidated and anxious? Has he enrolled in the wrong class?
- Student #2. Why is she losing energy and focus within the first month? Too much on her plate? Besides the workload, what else is going on in her life? Are there childcare issues? Maybe she needs a little help identifying and organizing her priorities.
- Student #3. Can she become a model student for the class? Is there any harm in letting her be the leader in class participation? Or could she possibly stifle discussion? Will other students just let her answer? What can the instructor do to encourage other students to participate in class?
A teacher’s calling is to recognize each of these types (and combinations thereof) and reach out with encouragement, challenge and recommendations to appropriate resources. That requires differentiated approaches.
Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.
Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.
(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.