Take a Seat at the Bottom of the Class
"Don't worry, we won't keep you there long…it would be too painful."
by Bill Page
Teachers appreciate "good" students, those who have good manners, good hygiene, study skills, background, learning practices, attitude. "Good" students have interpersonal skills, knowledge, home support, confidence, and competence. Teachers love those who are reliable, trustworthy, alert, cheerful, attentive, able, responsive, sensitive, sensible, patient; and especially those who will do what they are told, the way they are told, when they are told, because they are told, preferably, without having to be told. And why not? Who wouldn't enjoy having "good kids" to teach.
Teachers As Good Students
Teachers themselves were "good students," good enough to have graduated college. They identify with "good" students, they like "their own type." After all, teachers are "their own type." We identify with people we respect and admire and whom we would desire to be like. We don't identify with people we don't like, or don't want to be like, or don't think we can be like.
Half Of All Students Are Below Average
Unfortunately, by definition, 50% of all the kids in class are below the class average by any given measure or by mean, mode or median. You might consider this fact the next time you go to the doctor: Chances are 50/50 he or she was in the bottom half of his or her graduating class. How would you like to be in the bottom 10% of a class -- there is a bottom 10 percent.
How Would You Like To Be At The Bottom?
Consider for a moment what it might be like to be a kid at the bottom, in the bottom half of the class, or in the bottom 10% of the class.
- How would it feel if becoming a better student, or even a more "acceptable" student, involved exposing your weaknesses, slowness, and inability. How much failure, risk of failure, embarrassment, or punishment would you take? How much motivation would it take to get you to "at least try?" How many good days might you have in the course of a week?
- The kids at the bottom live with fear…fear of disapproval, fear of being judged, fear of risking, fear of being laughed at, or ridiculed, and worst of all fear of appearing stupid. They even fear the truth that they may indeed be dumb. They need freedom from fear, freedom to make mistakes, take chances. They need to be willing to try -- and to do it with impunity. Do they have that freedom in your class?
- The bottom kids cannot compete with the average kid, let alone the top kids. They can't "play the school game" well enough. Players who always lose cannot be expected to enjoy playing the game, to work hard at getting better, to compete on a daily basis, year after year, or to harbor affectionate feelings, toward the game, the other players, or the game officials. Might there be some hostility, envy, resentment, jealousy, passive aggression, and dejection?
- Kids don't learn well by having their ears talked at, by being given work that's too difficult, by studying material that is meaningless to them. Kids don't learn from people they don't identify with, and they can't learn when they are anxious, fearful, or intimidated. Do you have kids that fit this category?
- "Good " students can accept and tolerate a degree of boredom, lack of relevancy, lecture, tests, grades, and stress, because there is sufficient reward, approval, success, grades, and support. For the kids at the bottom who get few rewards, who get limited approval, sporadic success, and poor grades, and who have poor self-discipline, poor self-concept and lack of interest, there can be very little tolerance. Plus there will likely be failure, labeling, punishment, and condescension…maybe even pity. Kind of tough isn't it?
- The belief that there are fast students and slow students (or good and bad, smart and dumb) prevents us from understanding the real difference between the top students and the bottom students in school. Top kids are not vastly different from the bottom kids. The difference is akin to people speaking two different languages, say English and Dutch. The bottom kids speak a different language than the top, but they are no less capable of thinking, understanding, and communicating. Wouldn't you be in a different circle of friends, speak from a different perspective, and have had experiences different from the students in the top half of the class?
Consider These Questions:
If we were struggling students:
Would we resent or envy those for whom school is enjoyable?
Would we blame ourselves, or others, for our plight?
Would we strive to "make" the honor roll?
Would we identify with the good kids, or they with us?
Would we keep trying after a failing grade seems inevitable?
Would we end each school day with very different experiences?
Would we at least do the part of the schoolwork we could do?
Wouldn't we seek ways to make the hurt or pain go away?
Wouldn't our attitudes be adversely affected?
Wouldn't we daydream, let our thoughts wander, stare out the window?
Wouldn't we welcome distractions, and maybe create a few distractions?
Wouldn't we be drawn to other students in similar circumstances?
Wouldn't we rationalize, generalize and project our problems?
Wouldn't we "live" with our problems every day of our lives.
Wouldn't we deal with the hours of boredom by "entertaining" others and ourselves?
Now consider and question what would likely make the most difference in our lives as a learner in the classroom:
If what we learn is what we experience, if we learn from the company we keep, and if acceptance and self-worth are high on the list of personal needs, what would we as low performing students be learning in school each day or over a long period of time? And, if the experiences and learning are not what they should be, who has the obligation to make a change in what is happening? Must the kid change before we can teach him, or must we change in order to teach him?
My own consideration is this:
For many and varied reasons, school is inappropriate for a significant number of students -- those at the bottom. And when it is inappropriate, students act as though it is inappropriate. They act as anyone might act when confronted with impossible, boring, incomprehensible tasks. We in turn act as though there is something wrong with the students rather than examine inappropriate material or our part in the problem. For my part, any given kid at the bottom is a prime example of this consideration. There is nothing the kid can do about it -- but there is something we as school people can do.