Fundamental to good teaching means to see students as they are, not as we assume them to be 


I was fortunate early in my career to have a student who was willing to speak her mind. After telling me how much she enjoyed my class several years before, Hilary said, “One thing, Mr. Thoms, that bothered me then was you seemed to decide early which students were smarter and which were not, and you never changed your mind.” I was stunned. From that day, I vowed to stay open to the potential of each student—and to every teacher I teach. I have to catch myself at times, but I keep at it, asking myself these questions:

  • Do we hear what we actually say when we are discussing students and grouping?
  • Do we really think some students are “bright” and others “slow”?
  • Do we really believe we can achieve more with our “bright” groups than we can with our “slower” groups?
  • Do we prefer “bright” (cooperative) kids who play the game of school well and are “easier” to teach?
  • Do we assume the “lower groups” (uncooperative) are less teachable?
  • Do we really think we no longer track students as we were tracked?

Even after viewing clips of Stand and Deliver, in which Jamie Escalante demonstrates the effectiveness of holding high expectations for all of his students, I hear teachers use the language of tracking as if it is etched in their minds. I think I understand why it persists. Teachers, after all, deal with large numbers of students, often well over one hundred per day in middle and high school, so an expedient terminology is useful. Also, because they have to sort and grade students, these categories facilitate that process. And, labeling is endemic in our culture.

Do you succumb to the temptation to label students? Is it really easier? 

For more on seeing students at they are, See Chapter 11: Abolish Tracking in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: