Bell Curving My Students

There have been several questions on my mind lately, but a general theme has occurred on four separate occasions during the past two weeks.

  1. A student just blatantly asked if I actually like my students, as if his interactions with his teachers has lead him to believe that we teachers hate students.
  2. A student admitted that she feels like all of her teachers don’t respect her.
  3. In a conversation with a student I admitted that I will miss her after graduation.
  4. While planning reward activities at my school I get the distinct impression that some teachers do not want to interact with students outside of their academic comfort zone.

I don’t think I want to address each of the last four statements individually, but I would like to address the concept that is at play here, which would be, “how I think about the student-teacher relationship.”

Before I go too far into the details, let me say that I have always considered myself a generalist (though I have been failing at that lately). What that means for me is that the well-being and flourishing of the student should always come first, with math being the tool that I have been given to use. With maybe that being said, maybe this next part will be a little more comprehensible.

Since I am a math teacher let me bell curve my interpretation of the student teacher relationship.

Standard_deviation_diagram.svg The students that sit out beyond -3σ, that 0.1%, those students are the ones that I find truly detestable. These students are so few and far between that in ten years of teaching I can count them on one hand.

The students that lie between -3σ and -1σ, or 15.7%, I am a tolerable polite with those students.

One standard deviation in either direction, or -1σ to 1σ, or the vast majority of my students I am genuinely interested in their lives. I want to know how other classes are going. Are they looking for work? I want to know how the basketball game went because of this middle 68.2%, but my relationship with these students is strictly defined around school activities. The only thing that separates them is the mean of zero, which to me defines whether I initiate contact with the student or just participate with them after they initiate.

The 1σ to 2σ group, the 13.6% of my students, are the reason that I go to basketball games, musicals, concerts, etc. They are the reason that my date nights with my wife so often involve other people’s kids. Though I view my relationship with these students is still defined by a school environment, I view my compassion and caring through the lens of being a fellow human being more than that of a teacher and student.

Those students in the last two groups, the 2σ and beyond, the 2.1% and the 0.1%, those students are the ones that I want to become involved in their lives. I want to know where they want to go to college and how I can help them succeed. I want to know where they are five years after they have graduated. These are the students that I feel that I can wash away the line that demarcates the teacher-student relationship, to the point that I don’t have to worry about censoring myself. Being so connected to these is what allows me to be precisely the most effective teacher I can be.  These are the students that I will genuinely miss seeing them on a daily basis. These are the students that actually make me look forward to class. These are the students that I look back on with regret, thinking that I could have done more to push them to reach and surpass their potential.

But that last group the 3σ, once again a group that I could count on one hand over ten years of teaching, that represents the students that I miss or will miss the most. Those are the group that make me question the teacher-student relationship because that small group represents the group that I wish I could call friends, if not for the societal stigma of a teacher and student being friends.

So, after all that, back to the original list.

  1. Yes, I do like the vast majority of my students. It’s also the reason why I wish they would take more classes with me.
  2. I feel so empathetic to this student. It is precisely this empathy that usually starts to bridge a connectedness that makes the student teacher relationship so much more effective. I just don’t know how to address it in the middle of class.
  3. Well, I guess this student could figure out where she ranks in my hierarchy of students.
  4. This is why I like planning reward activities. It gives me a chance to hopefully interact with my students on a personal level, especially depending on which ones sign up.

Well, that’s how I think about my students. I just wish I was allowed the freedom to interact with them in a more humane manner instead of treating school like a gigantic information transfer.

 

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