By Jenn Hayhurst & Jill DeRosa
The craziest school year EVER is coming to a close and we are thinking about students as we face an uncertain future. Yet the same old cycle of making classes is alive and well and is currently happening in a school district near you. Students are being defined in very general terms and are being sorted into convenient categories to meet the task at hand of making “balanced” classrooms. This process not only limits our students, it marginalizes our expertise as teachers. The words we all agree to use in these collaborative settings sets up the energy and beliefs of the group.
Language is a funny thing; it hides all manner of sins. When teachers refer to “low kids” and “high kids” what are we really saying? We are saying, we don’t really know these kids at all. When we talk about kids as being “low” or “high” we are robbing them of their true identities. We could be measuring students’ strengths and building classrooms that are driven by an asset lens; instead, we are talking about “low” and “high” kids who are being bandied about from section to section to make sure teachers get a good mix of “high,” “average” and “low” kids.
So, here are examples of some students who others have referred to as “low” kids:
- He has parent involvement through the roof, he is content to think his own thoughts and does not feel pressure to conform and this is evident in the work he produces, it doesn’t look like a typical product. Big loopy letters, the brevity of his sentences mask his true brilliance. Once you look a little deeper, deep knowledge is revealed. Knowledge that extends beyond the initial appearance. Clearly, critical thinking is a gift to this boy. He is a divergent thinker who sees things in unique and important ways. Honor that.
- His engagement levels are constant, he wants to learn and has a deep desire to be part of collaborative work but his language usage is still fledgling and he becomes discouraged. He is extremely perceptive and understands the nuance of social settings. His awkward phrasing and overly general language usage is not a limitation, it is a badge of honor. He is brave and wants you to understand what he really thinks. Stamina is a gift for this boy, he can work for long periods of time and he believes in himself. Honor that.
- She is eager to please and wants to be helpful but she seems to shy away from heavier intellectual work. Her current low level of academic performance is accepted by many as a given, and there is no real expectation for her. She appears to be disengaged during group discussion, but when you take the time to sit down next to her, you will soon learn that she is listening intently. She wants to understand everything, and has many insightful questions. Creativity is a gift to this girl, when given the space to really explore how she processes her learning we discover she has a real spark for learning. Her brilliance is revealed through her drawings, her artifacts, her movements, her songs. Honor that.
To label these kids as being “low” is a crime. They’re not “low” they are complex, they are unique and worthy of our deepest consideration. Doesn’t it just feel right to talk about our kids this way? When teachers really know their students it becomes impossible to label all students as one thing. It is time to break free of the constrictive language that takes a deficit stance. The language that makes our students smaller, the language that makes our voices as teachers weaker. It’s time to recognize that teaching is more powerful than a classroom. Asset lens teaching assumes an active stance that meets students in their homes, it follows them into their play, and informs how they think about themselves. My teacher knows me, she believes in me, and I believe in me too. Any classroom would be lucky to get me. All children deserve to think this way, and we can make it so.