Before I get too far into this post, I feel compelled to start with a clarification about what I mean as far as a “bad student.” My education experience was certainly a good one. I always felt comfortable in each of my classrooms and all of my past teachers are to be commended for their welcoming attitudes. My academic performance is more of the focus of this “bad student” idea. I was a bad student to the effect that I focused more on getting through the time than taking advantage of the learning opportunities. In my classroom, I want to learn from my mistakes and create not just a welcoming environment, but one where ALL students can thrive and are supported in making the most of their educational experience. Which brings me to the attributes of a bad student...
Attributes of a “Bad Student”
One might be asking, what are the attributes of a “bad student?” Well, it could vary widely. I will speak to my specific experience, but I am sure others could contribute many more attributes. It is my intent to focus on those ideas that shaped my instructional style and how it addresses the loop holes I found as a student.
Attribute #1: Being Compliant Above Being a Learner
Above all else, this attribute gave me the most latitude to avoid work and eventually learning. It was almost as if I had gained the teachers “trust” by not stepping out of line. Making sure that I turned something in on time (regardless of accuracy), not talking when the teacher was talking, and pretty much following the rules prevented me from ever being identified as someone that needed to be “watched.” All the while, I never really truly engaged in the classroom environment, but appeared to.
Attributes #2: Appearing Average
Never lagging behind, but most certainly never stepping forward allowed me to constantly exist without the expectations of going beyond my abilities. This was not to say that I was not capable of doing so, but lets be honest, as a teenager, that was hardly my focus at the time. It was rare, if ever, that a teacher gave me feedback with the expectations or support that I was capable of doing something more than I was presenting. Therefore, year in and year out, I did my homework and performed well enough on tests to ensure that I was never identified one way or another.
Attribute #3: Appearing Interested
This is not to say that there were not topics that I found enjoyable, but to my teachers, I wanted to appear as though everything was fascinating. In essence, putting on a face where I pretended to hang on every word. I never engaged in the conversation or extended the learning experience, but I sure could fool someone into thinking I really wanted to know more, even though I didn’t.
How This Shaped My Classroom:
By now I am sure you have identified a few words that defined my life as a student; the easiest of which would be “appeared.” My experience and how I was perceived were widely different. This was due to the fact that little information or data was collected on my actual interest and ability. We were rarely given the option to investigate topics of interest, and if that was the case, I would have easily been exposed as a fraud. To the same regard, I was never pushed beyond my ability as, once again, no objective data was collected on my actual abilities. Appearing average led teachers to have average expectations, based solely on personal, usually subjective, assumptions. To me, I cracked the code on being able to move through school easily and with little effort to result in success.
Mr. Julian’s Class Topic #1: Know Your Students!
It is my goal to know my students as people, not just members of my class. Sure there is time to talk to them outside of class, but why waste the time I have them in my classroom! There are a couple of things that I do in order to break through the surface on this goal. First, my class structure gives me the opportunity to talk one on one with EVERY STUDENT EVERYDAY. I use a gamified environment that is very student driven, allowing me to float around and provide feedback and engage in authentic conversation with everyone. Sometimes these are very formal feedback meetings and other times they are informal non-content related conversations. By avoiding a lecture style classroom, I have the opportunity to know my students at a much more authentic level.
Mr. Julian’s Class Topic #2: Create Excitement!
The gamified unit in my class has a theme and the game mechanics are somewhat complex; HOWEVER, this is not what defines the class. I bring enthusiasm to my room every single day. While that may be hard some days, it is important to show students that a “day off” is just a missed opportunity. Whether it is the most boring lesson or the best one that I ever created, students would never know because the level of excitement I bring is the same regardless of the activity. We all know students feed off of your energy. If you come to class and act like the lesson stinks or is not that great, students will feel the same way. Even if you are tackling a mandated topic or standard, keep the energy and excitement high and the students will follow!
Mr. Julian’s Class Topic #3: Be Flexible
The “my way or the highway” attitude never worked for me, in fact it immediately turned me off of whatever we were doing. My question may not have even really made that much a difference, but the inflexibility of a teacher made me feel as though my ideas did not have value. In my class, we seek to value every student and their ideas! The only way to do this is to create an environment that is flexible and malleable in both task and process. Every student is different and we all know that, but providing opportunities for these unique personalities and skills empowers students as they know their individual skills are valued. A one task fits all style is something we know doesn’t engage learners, so it is impearative to set a goal rather than a task and support your students on their journey to finding success.
Mr. Julian’s Class Topic #4: Collect Data and Provide Feedback:
Of all of the topics, this is the most impactful for me in shaping my classroom. My success of flying under the radar was based solely on the fact that I don’t really think my teachers knew what I was capable of producing. In a more open environment like my class, I have the opportunity to give immediate feedback to students. In addition, the flexibility of my learning environment allows me to pivot with students very easily based on collected information. For example, if I see that students are excelling, I can encourage them to push even further! In a more rigid environment, students would be tied into a specific task regardless of their interest. I seize the interest of students as a means to get them to dig deeper. Most of my data collection is formative, but through the relationship that I have built with my students, I am able to given them specific information to guide them on their quest. I do still grade assignments and collect summative and quantitative data; however, the information I get from student conversations is much more valuable for creating an environment where students are able to feel comfortable taking risks, sharing their ideas, and pushing their limits.
I would be lying if I said that this worked perfectly every time, but to the same regard my students always feel comfortable taking risks and pushing themselves. This is not taking anything away from my teachers. It was another time and the expectations were WAY different. These decisions I make on a daily basis are designed to give my students the best chance for success and I know my teachers felt the very same way. I appreciate the schooling I received and know very much that my success was at the heart of my teachers’ focus and I do not take that for granted. I am doing what I feel is best for students and hope that you can take away a few ideas to help you do the same.
Thanks for reading!