I would like to begin this post by saying that I am not trying to bash students at all, but expose some of the lies that student tell teachers to either (A) get out of doing work or (B) blame their mistakes on others. Most of my students are hard working, inquisitive, and caring people who simply want to make a good grade and gain access to either a college degree or a good trade school. I do everything in my power to see that all of them have access to that, but there are always a few of them who have not figured out that high school is their last stop on their way to adulthood.
Here is my list of the top five scams perpetrated by students:
1. “I don’t know how to write an essay” or “grasp this basic math concept” – This is a great scam. What it does to a teacher is cause panic. In Oklahoma, 35% of our evaluation is based on a student’s test scores effectively treating students like an employee and teachers like a foreman. (This model is foolish for education because we cannot fire our students and hire better achieving ones…unless we teach in a charter school, of course). Teachers panic because once a student says this, the teacher worries that the student will not be able to grasp the more complex concepts that the State has deemed necessary for the student to know for the all important end of instruction tests. The panicking teacher needs to realize that this child who is now in high school has had at least 9 years of writing classes, grammar classes and math classes. When a student tells me that they do not know how to write an essay, I simply tell them that we should go across the hall and talk to the freshman teacher about it. This shuts down their scam and they suddenly know how to write an essay! This never fails. Somewhere down the line, a teacher caved when they tried this scam and they have been doing it to get out of work ever since.
2. “You must have lost that assignment because I turned it in” – I have heard this one so many times that if it were true I would be not only the most incompetent teacher but the most incompetent person on earth. I have colleagues who have been so frightened by this bluff (and the bluff of some of the parents of these students) that they make students sign a waiver form when they turn something in and sign another form if they refuse to turn in work. My question is: why create a bigger headache and extra work for yourself because of someone else’s devious lies? The way I combat this scam is by parental contact. I have a feature on my online grade book that allows me to e-mail a parent every time a student fails to turn in work. As per common core, my students do much group work, working together to solve problems that are posed to them by daily work. This gives me time to quickly see who did not turn in their assignment, and then immediately e-mail their parent about it. If a student fails to turn in work in one teacher’s class, it is probably a pattern that repeats in other classes. The best ammunition a teacher can have against a parent who will not admit that their child is lying is to bring three other teachers to the parent/teacher conference who show that little Jonny is failing to turn in work in other classes. Is it possible that ALL of little Jonny’s teachers are losing his work? Improbable. I then ask the question: “Have you received my e-mails? If you will look at the time stamp you will see that these assignments that little Johnny has failed to turn in are noted during the time of day when he attends my class.” I also have a phone on my desk that I can use for repeat offenders. I call their parents and have them explain why they failed to follow through with their obligation.
3. “I was at the hospital with (random relative)” – This is a classic. Sometimes it is legitimate, so tread lightly here, but there is an easy way to deal with this. Pick up the phone and call to offer your condolences to the parent. If the story is legitimate, you have a great time to connect with a parent and tell them that you are concerned for their family crisis (and this needs to be done more by teachers to build rapport with the community anyway). But sometimes the parent won’t know what you are talking about, and once you tell them what their child said to you about his/her dying relative, the parent then usually deals with this themselves. On the flip side of this issue, I teach more and more students who have horrible family issues. I am always very empathetic when dealing with these special students. I have taught students who work every night to help their family pay bills and buy food, students who are star athletes but are also star scholars, who feel overwhelmed and need more time. These students (if I can get them not to fear me and then feel like they can ask for help) have been the source of some of the best moments of my teaching career, and usually these students end up achieving great things in life.
4. “I’m not afraid of you” or “You can’t scare me” – These students are the ones who have been to three or four schools or who come from rough backgrounds and if they are saying this, then they hate school and only go because either the court is making them or they plan on dropping out as soon as they are old enough. These students take special care and investment. You must plan to spend about twice the time you would spend with an average student when helping these students achieve, but it is possible to reach through their hard carapace. I have taught alternative education for nearly 14 years and have managed the alternative education program at my school for the last three years. There is one thing that these students respond to more than anything and that is genuine love. Do not take the aggressive approach with these students and definitely pick your battles with them. If you show enough love to a student like this the rewards are greater than you could ever imagine. I am currently mentoring a student who was in and out of detention, suspension and usually either was involved in a physical altercation at school or started one at least once per semester. This student ended up having some severe personal hardships happen to them, ended up in alternative education. However, through the love of my talented and caring co-workers and many encouraging sessions with this student where we did everything we could to build a relationship, that student is now attending mainstream “day school” and is holding a 3.5 GPA. The student is well adjusted, thinks that students who do not give 100% are foolish and has big plans for college after graduation.
5. The Critic – This last one doesn’t drift into my classroom very often, but once in a while I will teach a student who considers themselves such a world traveller that my instruction methods are seen by them as inferior to someone else they “had in the past” or that they have a better way to do things. This student can be a huge pain in the neck but they can also be a teacher’s best delight. If allowed to stew, one of these students can wreck the class. They constantly challenge the teacher’s authority, causing the teacher to dislike being around that student and dreading the class period entirely. They take the focus off of the rest of the class and place it directly on themselves. This student is either (A) hungry for attention or (B) extremely intelligent but has never really been challenged. The best way to deal with a student like this is to ask them to write lesson plans. As soon as a teacher recognizes one of these students, they must ask them to come in outside of class. The teacher tells the student that they have a special project lined up for them and a way that they can contribute to the education of everyone. When the student arrives, the teacher then gives them a stack of State guidelines and a notebook and tells them that they want them to help design some lessons that would best utilize all learning styles in the classroom. If a student is bluffing about their intelligence level and simply causing strife because they want the teacher to be flustered, this will end that problem right away. However, if the student is truly concerned about the education level or the methods, they will help the teacher create some awesome student centered lesson plans for the class. If you don’t want to let them have this kind of control, then you probably are teaching like people did back in the 1800’s and need to get with the program. I teach active learners who gain ownership of their learning process. Putting a gifted student in charge of such a task (designing some of the lesson plans, not all) will give that student a sense of purpose that will give a teacher great gains in the classroom.