My guess is if I ask teachers who have taught for more than one year, they can name a student they know who will come to class without any materials like a pen, pencil, paper, or book. Teachers can name a student they know who will ask to go to their locker or use the restroom during class. I’m also willing to bet teachers can name a student who will stay silent when they are asked to answer any questions in class. Knowing teachers can name students who do these actions, I ask you this question, “Are the students training us as teachers?”.
Many people may have heard the Urban Legend about “The Trained Professor” as written in the book Curses! Broiled Again! by Jan Harold Brunvand published in 1989. In the book, a college Psychology class slowly trains the professor to teach in a small corner of the lecture hall by coughing every time the professor moves from that corner. While the story of the trained professor might not be true, I have seen students influence their teachers with their actions. The students do this in many ways.
Common Ways Students Train Teachers
One of the most frequent ways I have seen students get teachers to do what they want is by wearing the teacher down by sheer repetition! I have had students admit this to me when I was in the classroom. They told me it works on their parents, and it works on teachers just as well. All they do is ask the same request repeatedly even though they know it will probably be denied. They know if they ask repeatedly, after a while, it is just easier for the teacher to say “OK, fine go ahead,” and give them permission. Once the teacher allows this once, the student uses this as evidence that it should be allowed to happen again, and again, and again.
I have seen students use this tactic and yes, it works (speaking from experience). In the teacher’s (and my) defense, they are asked so many questions continuously, it is sometimes easier just to say “OK, go ahead” than it is to defend or justify a response. For many of the questions, like going back to their locker, going to the restroom (usually so they can respond to texts or watch a video on their phones), or using their headphones to listen to music in class while working on an assignment, the outcome is not all that important. For other issues, like the student staying silent so they never have to answer any questions, that is a different story.
The Silent Treatment
When a teacher calls on a student to answer a question in class and the student says or does nothing, the first response by the teacher is to repeat or rephrase the question. If the student again says or does nothing, the teacher, too many times, just moves on and asks another student the same question. Do not let the student out-wait you. You can give the student options to “Phone a Friend” or to use a connect device to look up an answer, but do not let them train you to just move on. You are not helping the student by doing this.
“You’re just picking on me” Students
I like taking excuses away from students and parents. There are many things I have done to alleviate the common complaints about me asking students questions. For instance, students will say, “You only call on me when you know I don’t know the answer” or “I don’t like being put on the spot when you call on me.” For these perceptions, I like writing out questions on a 3’ x 5’ card and handing them to students as I greet them at the door as they enter class. They know that sometime during the class period they will be called on to answer that question. They have plenty of time to get help from other classmates, Google an answer, or formulate a response.
How Do We Help?
Structure Class for Success
If we want students to become responsible for their learning, we must structure our instruction for them to do so. There are so many ways for students to access information these days. We must hold them responsible for doing just that! You will be hard-pressed to ask a question that cannot be Googled to gather enough information to either answer the question directly or be able to form an opinion or conjecture for a response. You can have the student ask another student to help them answer the question. If they do, they must repeat the answer, so they do in fact answer your question. It may be the answer from another student, but the student called on did answer the question.
Create Full Class Participation
For me, education must be an active endeavor. If the students know they can just sit there and do nothing, they most certainly will do just that. One of the ways you can have students participate in class is by asking them questions in such a way that everyone has to answer. For instance, “Which problem on the assignment gave you the most difficulty?” or “Which problem would help you the most by having it discussed or worked in class?”. I love asking students their opinion on things where everyone will have an answer.
Be Mindful of Perception
So much of teaching and for that matter education in general is tied directly to perception! If the students perceive you as being on their side, you will get so much more accomplished with your students. When students perceive you as caring and wanting them to succeed, they will work harder to do just that. Finally, if the students perceive you as believing that they can do a task, more times than not they will! Perception is what many times becomes reality.
Mix it Up
Here is a unique idea that can gather useful information about your students’ abilities and is very positive for the students. Next quiz you give, after 15 – 20 minutes into the quiz, ask the students to choose one problem they would like you to come around and check to see if it is correct. They tell you which problem they want you to check, and you look at it and say either “Nice Work” or “You might want to check that answer”. This is positive for the student as they experience you helping them succeed. It is a positive for you as it tells you exactly what problem the student may be struggling with or is the least confident working.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When it comes to all the little questions students ask, that really don’t affect the outcome of their learning, don’t sweat it, and give in a little. If it’s a question that does have an impact on the students’ learning, hold your ground and do not get trained by the students to let them slide. Yes, it does take more time, energy, and effort to do this. It is worth it! Make sure you are not letting the students get away with no response! Set up your classroom and the questions you ask, so no response is not an option. Students may not be happy with you at the start. They will respect what you are doing for them and appreciate what you have done.
Things to remember with your students:
You must really believe that every student CAN do the work you are asking them to do.
Not only must you expect, but demand, that they try their best for you in all the work they do.
Be a cheerleader and constantly tell them they CAN do the work.
Encourage them along the way as often as possible.
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the successes along the way. A simple phone call home telling parents how hard their son or daughter has been trying and working goes a long way to help bolster students’ perception of how much you care. You will never regret the extra effort you put in when you see how great the successes are for what you have done.