George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Development

Myth-Busting: "If I Just Had Better Students"

How to avoid falling into the trap of thinking student success has only to do with the students.
October 10, 2016
A male teacher is leaning his head against a whiteboard, looking up in distress. A classroom of blurred out students are behind him, smiling and talking.
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I was at the attendance office one day towards the end of the school year, and the clerk asked me about one of the students who had been skipping class. Unbidden and almost automatically, the words came out of my mouth, “You know, the counselors for some reason decided to give me the worst class possible. How am I supposed to teach them when I have to spend so much time dealing with so many behavioral issues?” 

After I left the attendance office, I reflected on what I had said and realized that I had fallen into the trap of self-pity and justification that I have decried so much in my blog posts. I basically said: If the counselors had given me better students, I would be able to teach better. I had to ask myself: Why would I say such things? Have I done everything possible to change the situation? Have I given up?

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Why Would I Say Such Things?

Saying such things goes against everything I believe. I said them because I was upset with the students, the counselors, and yes, myself. But you notice that when I said those things to the attendance clerk, I did not include myself. For some reason, I felt that blaming others exonerated me from my personal responsibility for the struggles in that class. The class was super rowdy. Just getting them to settle down and keep quiet for instruction was a chore.

Each day I hoped it would get better, and sometimes it was better. But for the most part, the conflict continued. I often felt like I had to get just enough control of student behavior to enable learning. Sometimes getting them settled as a whole group seemed to take most of the period, and I often struggled to find time to give the students in need individual attention. 

What Strategies Worked?

Have I done everything possible to change the situation in this class? Of course not, or the situation would have been resolved (maybe). But I have seen some improvement in behavior because I have learned specific ways to handle behavior. For example, I did the following:

  • Established leaders in the class who assisted other students (with completing an assignment, staying on task, etc.)
  • Regrouped any cliques to diminish off-task behaviors, and maintained daily routines and classroom procedures
  • Provided assignments with step-by-step visual and auditory directions
  • Prompted writing assignments with sentence stems and models

These strategies for engagement do work for the most part. But some days, my attempts at engaging and managing have resulted in bedlam. Twice now, I admit that I have resorted to trying to be louder than the students -- making me feel foolish and not helping whatsoever.

What Could I Have Done Differently? 

I could have been much more firm from the beginning and not allowed a few students to impede the progress of the class. Perhaps I should have been sterner. Over the years, I have had unruly classes, and I will continue to have them. I know my teaching style does not lend itself to disciplinarian methods. I am always fine with a little bit of chaos and noise, knowing students are still productive. 

Upon reflection, I was wrong to blame the counselors for putting that combination of students together in that class. How were they to know how it would work out? Most importantly, I was foolish to entertain the thought that if I had better students, I could teach more effectively.  

I realized it was not about the teaching at all. It is about the learning. In truth, some of my students were being deprived because I perhaps did not do what was necessary to be successful. In hindsight, I would have redesigned the course to target students’ needs instead of constantly tweaking a lesson plan made for students with more traditional skill sets.

And that’s the lesson learned by me.

What are your thoughts and beliefs on the myth of having better students? Please share in the comments section below your own experiences with this myth.

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  • Teacher Development
  • Student Engagement
  • Teaching Strategies
  • All Grades