Carolism #4: Adapt to the student– don’t make them adapt to you
I’m a story teller in the classroom. I love to use personal stories about my kids, grandkids, where I grew up, holidays—and relate them to whatever we’re talking about in class. But I couldn’t do that the year I had “Greg.” Greg came to class quiet, reserved and covered in tattoos. The other students called him “lurch.” He was very tall and would just sit in his desk and not say a word. He didn’t make an effort to get to know anyone.
But what Greg didn’t know was that I knew him. He was the nephew of my mother’s next door neighbor. I had actually seen him several times over the years. I knew he was a former drug addict and that he was busted for selling drugs and spent time in prison. But I also knew if Greg had an inkling that I knew him, he’d probably drop out of cosmetology school. To him, this was a safe place. A place where no one knew his past, couldn’t judge him for past mistakes and had a clean slate.
I never treated Greg differently, but I did have to throw a bunch of my stories out the window. Anything that could connect me to him would be a disaster. On Greg’s first day on the student salon floor, he did the hair of a little, old lady who gave him a tip. With tears in his eyes he showed me that tip and said it was the first honest dollar he had ever made.
Great teachers can sense when their students need something different, even if that means you have to bend your lesson plans or teaching style. It’s not about you—it’s about the student. As educators we have to learn how to be flexible and adapt to what our class needs.
Tips to adapting to your student
■ Know their triggers. I have a box full of goodies—cheap, junk machine type items. Each student picks out one item and tells the class why they picked it. I once had a student who chose a white mini beanie baby. She said it was either that or the other item which was red, and she HATES red. She went into an entire story about how red makes her angry. What did I learn from that? I never graded a paper with a red pen that entire year for that class.
■ Let people have a choice. I might have a hard time getting through to a student who simply won’t pay attention and is never prepared for tests. I know they’d do better on the front row away from distractions, so I let them choose any seat on the first row. If they’re constantly forgetting the test day, let them choose which day for the class to take the test next week. Now they feel like everything is on their terms and that they’re in control. Adapt to you class by letting them make decisions.
■ Change it up. Maybe you’ve always taught a certain chapter one way, but this class has a shorter attention span than normal, so you have to switch your delivery method. Never do anything just because it has worked in the past. No two classes are the same.
Having a sense of awareness is the best way to adapt to your student, because now you know what their needs are. Don’t ignore problems—face them head on. Be flexible and get creative. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!