Seeing Humans Not GPAs

I had to say it again this week. I’m always kind of sad when it happens. A struggling student finally agrees to meet with me (Hallelujah!), and I find out that the reason they’ve been delaying is the embarrassment. They are ashamed about their performance (even if they’ve really been trying) and avoid me because of it. They think I’m going to scold or tell them they can’t make it, and they don’t feel prepared to hear it. And then I say, earnestly making eye contact, “When I look out over a classroom full of people, I see just that, people. Human beings. GPAs and test scores do not appear over your heads or on your foreheads when I look at you. I don’t even see “good student” or “bad student.” Frankly, my memory isn’t good enough to do that, even if I thought about you that way. And I don’t. I see people who need to leave at the end of class, the end of the semester having learned something new about the world and hopefully themselves. When I asked you to meet with me, it was so that I could help you to do that, not so that I could scold you or judge you. Okay?” They usually breathe a sigh of relief, and then we work together on a plan for improvement.

There are so many reasons that students struggle in our classes. Most of them have nothing to do with ability.