Teachers! Please STOP telling your students this...

by - October 03, 2018

The school year is well underway for most of us, and as students start to settle into routines, the honeymoon will fade. Students start to feel more comfortable and teachers begin seeing all the different angles of their students. 

I have always said that it is extremely difficult to be both a Mother and a teacher because as a teacher, I know the "inside" of education, and as a mother, I know the "inside" of having a unique, emotional child who I want to smack, yet who I'd take a bullet for. 

Teachers work hard, all of us. It's a tough job and it's a lot of work.I refuse to believe that there is a high percentage of people who became teachers because they wanted to coast. So I always give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to my own child. I know my child. I know that he can be lazy sometimes, but that he is responsible and always does his homework without being nagged about it. I know that he hates reading unless it's exactly the book that he wants to read. I get it. 

I also know that as a teacher, part of my job is learning what makes each child tick, what motivates them, what scares them, what excites them - it's part of building strong relationships with your students. They need to feel like they can trust you.

So when a teacher exploits a student's test scores and tells them that they are "below grade level," and that they should be working twice as hard as their peers in order to "Catch up," it makes my head explode.

Do we have students performing below grade level? Absolutely. By the measure that states use to make that determination, of course. We have them,  sometimes lots of them. I know I do. 

But there are so many more appropriate ways to convey to a student that they have a lot of work to do. Humiliating students by labeling them as below grade-level, low-level readers, "in the low class" etc. only stands to destroy their confidence and self-worth. We may use this terminology with colleagues for the purposes of better serving our students, but that should be left in the meeting room. 

So, teachers, I beg of you, as a mother and as a teacher, please stop telling students that they are "low" or "below grade level" or "only a level 1" or "in the low class" or "in the remediation class." Instead, here are some other phrases that you can use to encourage your students without humiliating them, assassinating their self-worth, and destroying their desire to learn:

• It is important to know where you are so that you can plan for where you are going! This is just a starting point. Where would you like to see yourself at the en of this school year?

• Everyone can improve! I am a teacher and even I learn new things every day! Sometimes I struggle, too. I work hard every day to improve, and so can you! 

• If we work together, we can make huge gains this year! If you believe in me, I will believe in you. We're in this together!

• Your test scores are nothing but a starting point. Everyone can improve! Let's make the most of the time that we have together this year and ensure that you make progress toward being a better you than you were when we started! 

• Your only competition is yourself. Hard work will pay off and you will be SO proud when you see how far you were able to go. 

• Look how far you have come! There is always room to grow, but wow! You have already accomplished so much!

• There's a lot of work to do, but you are capable. I believe in you, and you should believe in yourself.

• You can get better! Anyone can! 

• How do you think that I can help you improve in this area?

• How do you think you can improve? What strategies will be the most helpful? 

With more states tying teacher evaluation to test scores, it can be easy to get caught up in a convoluted interpretation of student success. High test scores are typically equated to being successful as a teacher, and so it stands to reason that your job is to get those high scores through any means necessary. I promise you though, belittling students isn't the way. I would rather have a classroom full of confident students who are trying their best to improve and fall short on their tests than a classroom full of broken kids who are terrified to perform poorly because their teacher will assassinate their character over their score. 

When your students succeed, be proud. But also know and understand that their accomplishments belong to them. They did the work for their own improvement and success. You helped, and yes, it was a lot of work, but ultimately students are responsible for their own success (this goes both ways, too, and as teachers we tend to be hard on ourselves when we "lose" one). 

Be kind to your struggling students. Be encouraging. Be trustworthy. Be positive. 

Be a leader, not a bully.

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