Know Your Students

by Kathryn Schumann (M.T. ’10 Soc Stud Ed)

Kathryn SchumannOne of Curry’s most memorable mantras is to “know your students.” It lays the foundation for all Curry students as the first principle of teaching. It is the thread that holds the tapestry of education together with students at the core.

As I entered the halls of my first teaching job, I naturally got to know my students. I went to the World History I teacher and showed him the roster of my World History II students. He kindly told me about each student: “This one’s a chatterbox. Don’t let these two sit next to each other under any circumstances. He won’t lift a finger.” The administrator stopped by and informed me of the students who have never passed a history SOL. I poured over our school behavioral records to see every offense students made in their high school career.

As the first day came around, I felt ready. I knew my students.

Aidan was a classic example of how prepared I was to teacher the students I had come to know. I was informed he was a trouble-maker who would rather raise a dip bottle than a pencil, he never passed an SOL, and he had a lengthy list of offenses from disrupting class to truancy.

Day one turned into day 45 and I gave a midterm to my World History II class. Several failed. and I told them they had to retake the midterm—no exceptions. I advised them all to come during lunch so we could review areas they were struggling in so they would do better.

The next day I prepared practice questions for the two girls I knew would come for tutoring. Eleven thirty turned into noon, and they never arrived. One person did arrive. Aidan.

He walked in, digging his hands in his jean pockets, with ten minutes left in lunch. He grabbed a seat and waited for me. I stumbled around trying to make sense of why this self-proclaimed failure was there. I offered him candy, pulled out some questions, and we started reviewing. The next day he came back, this time with twenty minutes left in lunch. On the third day, he came the entire lunch period. The overconfident bravado from third block fell away and was replaced with a sheepish, quiet voice that often missed questions. But he continued to come everyday for the next two weeks.

“Alright, Aidan you are ready to retake this test.” I informed him after weeks of lunch reviews.

“You know I have never passed a history test in my life,” he told me as he took the test from my hand.

I knew he was not a stellar student. I didn’t realize his history record was that grave. “Maybe he will not pass the retake…after all this work,” I thought.

He worked the rest of the lunch period and into the next block. He finally called me over and whispered, “I think I passed it.”

I quickly graded the test and, beaming from ear to ear, told him, “Aidan, you not only passed this test, but you got a 100!” He looked up at me and smiled. “Are you hanging this on your fridge or am I hanging it on mine?” I asked.

He got up from the back of the room and joined his group to finish an activity from the day before. I wondered if he even cared until I heard his entire group yell, “What?! Aidan, got a 100! You cheated!”

Now the entire class turned and joined in the amazement that he achieved a perfect score, something many of the top students did not accomplish. Aidan just looked down at his desk smiling, not saying a word.

I’ll never know exactly why Aidan came into my room to review for that midterm.  When I told fellow teachers I couldn’t eat lunch with them because I was tutoring Aidan, they were incredulous. Surely, I met a different Aidan! His SOL scores certainly did not tell me why he came. And his behavioral record was silent on the matter.

So I’ve stopped looking at other teachers, scores, and records to know my students. Now I let my students tell me who they are.