Students Aren’t Robots

Students aren’t robots, in fact they’re exactly the opposite – they’re humans.

Not only are they humans, they are teenage humans.  Hormone filled, emotional, impressionable teenagers…eeek!  There couldn’t be anything less predictable wandering our halls than 600+ teens.  Nothing could be more different from a predictable and programmable robot than a teenage human being.

This is why, recently, I’ve asked our Year Level Managers to start scheduling parent meetings with all of our students (and their parents) who’ve shown a pattern of arriving late to school.  See, up until now, we’ve sent each student the same exact “agreement” letter once they’ve reached a certain amount of ‘late to school’ infractions.  The problem, once again, is that our students aren’t robots.

If our students were robots then ‘agreements’, lessons, and consequences that were exactly the same for each student would work perfectly for all of them.  It would be glorious, we’d find the perfect lesson and consequence that helped all students arrive to school on time and our problem would be solved.  However, as I’ve mentioned, our students aren’t robots.

So, back to the meetings…my theory (that our students aren’t robots) proved to be true right out of the gates.  The first set of meetings were all completely different situations.  The first student was having a hard time arriving to school on time because she would wake up and look at social media on her phone for such a long time that she ended up leaving the house late every day.  The next student just couldn’t get out of bed because he was staying up until two or three in the morning each night.  The third student was doing everything right but her older sister was so slow in the morning that she ended up being late herself too often.  How effective is the same ‘agreement’ letter for these three kids and can you really apply any fair consequence to all three students?  

Our rationally developed and 95% effective Behavior Expectation System just wasn’t doing the trick for that remaining 5% of our students.  The reason it didn’t work for everyone…well, I think you’ve figured it out by now, ‘our students aren’t robots’.  We needed a touch of the human side to get involved in the process and, from what we’ve seen so far, it was very necessary.

I’m sharing this today because I want to encourage you to work on responding to the individual needs of our students more appropriately.  Sometimes it seems more efficient for the entire class to go through the same lesson, lab, or assessment but is that actually the most effective way of learning for each student?  Being ‘late to school’ is no different from trying to learn academics in the grand sense that our students all have different stories.  One student may learn very differently than their peers.  Most students, in fact, don’t learn the same way as those sitting next to them…they are humans.  

Our students aren’t robots.  I know that’s obvious but I think the exaggeration of the point allows us to realize that, sometimes, we operate as though they are very much the same person.  Even if we could take away the crazy swings that hormones cause in our students we’d still be faced with 600+ individual and unique human beings.  Perhaps 95% of students fit the molds we’ve created, but what are we doing in our classrooms, with our Behavior Expectation System, and every other aspect of education to make sure that all 100% of our students are receiving the best education possible?

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Brains are weird and amazing things!

For those of us who aren’t health teachers, perhaps there are some things that we tend to forget about our young charges and their brains. Recently the health teachers have had the distinct and utter pleasure of working with our kids in units about puberty, drugs and alcohol, and sex ed among others. The sex ed and drugs/alcohol discussions are offered for our seventh and eighth graders but it’s the sixth graders that I think really pose the most interesting study in the middle school age group. We’ve all seen the wide range within our current sixth grade class; it seems even broader than in years past. I think the puberty unit can be a good reminder for a lot of us; these kids are still very young in both maturity and developmental levels.
So what does this mean for us as educators? Well, I would suggest that as teachers, who are responsible for over 100 students in the course of a two-day cycle, that we have a responsibility to constantly keep one important fact in mind: A lot of our middle school students, especially the younger boys, are still developing many of the crucial brain functions that will allow them to be successful as they grow older. I could write on this all day but to be honest you should take the next few minutes and check out this article from the American Psychological Association (APA)…it’s a great reminder of the challenge we face teaching middle schoolers!! (At least check out page one and two, they are brilliant!) And, just in case you don’t want to follow my advice and click this link, then you should at least see this quote…these aren’t just my two cents today, this is some powerful stuff 🙂
“Just because you have a classroom full of students who are about the same age doesn’t mean they are equally ready to learn a particular topic, concept, skill or idea. It is important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when designing lessons and selecting which strategies to use.”