Acknowledging Students’ Humanity

Students come to us in all forms, and no two students think alike or come equipped with the same set of coping skills, aptitude, talents, or motivation.

In any given classroom, you might find…

  • The Driven–students whose parents expect nothing less than their child’s best and push their children to take and excel in advanced classes.

    Sometimes my role is to let them cry or vent on the days the pressure is too much and to breathe deeply when they (or their parents) lobby for me to change a grade. At all times, I want to meet their desire to learn more, know more, and be the best while tempering their drive with the reality that “knowing it” for a test isn’t the same as learning. These students tie their self-worth so tightly to their GPA that taking risks or making a mistake is tantamount to failure.


  • The Disruptive–students whose behavior ranges from outright defiant or violent to gregarious and subversive.

    These students stand when we ask them to sit, yell when we ask for quiet, and question everything–“Why do I need to know this? Who says?” They seek the approval of their peers and test the bounds of authority. These are the students who garner enough disciplinary notes to wallpaper their bedroom–if the notes even make it home for a parent’s signature.

    These students test my patience and their constant need for attention can make it difficult to teach anything. These are students who have learned that life isn’t easy and will take any kind of attention to feel important–even if it means being yelled at. They cope with stress from home or a lack of support by turning on adults around them. Negativity and impatience are toxic responses.

  • The Immature–these students are emotionally or socially delayed for many reasons and as their more socially sophisticated peers leave them behind, the gap becomes a chasm. They may have short tempers and be easy to provoke. These students may “overshare” in class or reveal details about their likes, dislikes, or home life that make them targets for bullying. They may unsuccessfully attempt to insert themselves into conversations or friend groupings and alienate themselves from the very people they long to know. Their reputation can outstrip them and even as they pass through this developmental stage to maturity, they can still be trapped by the expectations and long memories of other students.

    Sometimes my role with an emotionally or behaviorally immature student is to consciously alter my reactions to support that student’s need for attention while helping them find alternative ways to express themselves. I also have to watch the balance of power in the room and encourage all students to treat others with patience.

  • Students with particular needs: English language learners, new students, and transient students; students with autism, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyslexia, and other learning differences; students living with addiction (their own, or a parent’s), pregnancy, divorce, homelessness, depression, eating disorders, or suffering trauma from abuse or assault; students with frequent absences due to illness or tardiness due to a lack of reliable transportation. They may be consumed with grief because a family pet died or because a friend died in a car accident or because a parent is going to jail. They may live in fear of violence, failure, not fitting in, not getting into a good college, not having a best friend or a date to prom. They may face racism, bigotry, homophobia, religious intolerance.

    Even students who face none of these challenges to their safety or sense of self and have the full support of their parents can be challenging on the days their binary view of the world’s fairness causes conflicts.

    And this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to the challenges our students face or may face.

Just because we teach children doesn’t mean that their lives are not touched by troubles. Our students deserve more than to be summarized into a statistic or data set. The art of teaching acknowledges students’ humanity and works with students’ frailties, not in spite of them. Without this essential element, teaching loses its soul.


One thought on “Acknowledging Students’ Humanity

  1. Pingback: The Easiest Job in the World « The Art and Science of Teaching

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