For the purposes of this Blog: Johnny is the “A” student who doesn’t need to study, Sally is your average to below average student who struggles.
1. The highest score on the test belongs to Johnny!
So what? The highest score does not relate to the best performance. As a matter of fact, the highest test score usually belongs to Johnny, who just happens to find the Elementary Curriculum easy, and puts forth little to no effort to prepare for the test. So you reinforce that Johnny needs to not worry about his study skills, and also disregard the efforts put in by Sally who only wishes one day to get the highest score and be recognized. Recognition and celebration of an individual performance in front of the class needs to be centered on the effort given. Struggling Sally who earns a B, promotes a better message than Johnny’s mediocre A. Simply, you have celebrated and reinforced that Johnny and his lack of effort is great!
2. It’s your own fault, you obviously didn’t work hard enough at home!
The same can be said for you as a teacher. How exactly is Sally supposed to “work harder”? A low-grade does not always correlate with a lack of effort. What if Sally has been putting in hours of studying by flashcards as you told her? Could it be that using flashcards hinders Sally? Maybe Sally never removes cards she understands, thus studying all 50 cards over and over? Did you inform her on how to properly use flash cards? There are many options to studying and learning, but very few teachers will offer them to their students because they themselves are limited to what worked for them. The focus needs to be on what Sally is currently doing, and what options or changes are needed to help. Students don’t wake up every day and hope they struggle again. There is no fault to struggling, so why plant a message in their heads that they themselves are not good enough?
3. If you had listened to me, and did things my way, you wouldn’t be struggling!
When all else fails, the teacher knows best, Right? It is so easy to tell Sally that the only way to succeed is to do it your way, but do you give the same message to Johnny when he obviously has no study skills? By telling Sally this, you are confirming that her thoughts, ideas, and work ethic are failures. Sadly, when you stop and think about it, all students look up to their teachers and hold them on a pedestal, yet you are telling Sally she will never be good enough using their own thoughts and ideas. In the right atmosphere, Sally will always try impress her teacher for inspiring and supporting her through her struggles. Inspire them to be a great individual, not a copy of you.
4. You need to study more! You didn’t study enough!
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein. Studying more is simply not the answer for most, like Sally. Along with #2, 3, and 4, the biggest issue is that we pass the blame by using the word “YOU”. Yes, we all understand that it is up to the individual child, however, these are not adults. They are children in the process of learning. We talk about being a supporting partner throughout their education, but are quick to shovel all of the blame onto their shoulders with statements like these. Make sure your message to Sally starts with “YOU” in times of success, but make sure to start with “WE” can do better in times of failure.
5. It’s ok, you tried your best!
If you consistently set high standards for you students, it’s NEVER “ok” when a student does not do well. You are contradicting yourself to Sally who believes in your message of setting the bar high! Sally has been told every year that “It’s ok”, and “Things will get better” to no avail. Sally has invested herself in your message, and now you tell her what every other teacher and adult has said. She has raised her levels of expectations, and needs someone who will reinforce that a below average grade is “NOT OK”! She needs someone to invest in her, and help her become the best she can be. What can she do differently, what habits are not helping, or what improvements can be seen?- Are some of the questions Sally wants answers to, so save the meaningless pat on the back. ALWAYS praise the effort when it’s there, and let her know that “WE” will not give up!
Kids today are being raised into a society stressing that everyone is a winner, irrelevant of effort and ability. While I believe there is an age appropriate relation (5-6 years old), we are setting up our children for failure when we continually hold their hands. Every individual has a desire to succeed and out perform others. As we grow up, we look for individuals who can be our inspiration, our role models. People who stand out of the crowd that continually tells us how great we are. Those individuals who hold us to higher standards and make us believe we can reach the unreachable stars. We need teachers to be those individuals……Tell Sally that she CAN, show her different ways to improve, celebrate every victory, and be truthful but support her in every step backwards….Tell Johnny that his 95 should NOT be acceptable, talk with him about his lack of study habits, challenge him to see the future, and be truthful but support him with his weaknesses. It is never about what you as a teacher say, but rather what exactly the student hears! It is human nature to invest in someone who is invested in you. Make sure your message consistently rings true that effort and improvement, not grades, will earn your respect!
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