3 Steps for the Unprepared Student

Middle School Classroom

Why are you not prepared for class today? This is completely unacceptable!

Most Meanie Teachers Forever and Ever

I can’t lie, I’ve had these moments before, too. The same student comes into class without a pencil (AGAIN), forgot their binder in the last class (how is that even possible?) and needs to use the bathroom, just like yesterday and the day before. Sometimes, I’ve been guilty of the calm, yet stern, scolding, all while scrunching up my forehead with that oh-so-disappointed look on my face.

Then, I breathe. I picture this student in my 8th period, already having that exact same interaction with the last five teachers of the day all day today… and yesterday… and last week, last month, last year, etc etc etc. Obviously, that oh-so-disappointed look hasn’t done much to change the child’s habits. So, what’s the solution?

Here are three steps you need to take immediately to help the student be prepared (after breathing, of course.)

  1. Accept that kids are humans, too, and we all forget things. Today at the grocery store, I forgot to buy bread. Just a few days ago, with foggy windows in my car, I *accidentally* (oh my goodness) backed into my husband’s car.  How would we feel if the people we looked up to talked to us like we are sometimes guilty of talking to children? All humans deserve some sort of grace period, as we all make mistakes. Don’t forget that they’re humans too! 
  2. Ask the child how they can solve their problem right now. Could they ask me for a pass to go back to their previous teacher’s class? Could they use a pencil from the extra pencil cup or perhaps as a neighbor? Could they check the “absent” folder for extra copies of the worksheet they will need for class today? Is going to the restroom an emergency right now, or could it wait? Instead of scolding, we need to remember that our job as teachers is to help children become successful humans. We all talk about that, but when we say it, we usually mean successful at whatever our subject area is. We hope they understand geometry concepts, we hope they can form strong claims in their essays, and we hope they can successfully identify map features. What if teaching them didn’t end at our subject area, but instead helped them become mindful problem-solvers who are more prepared for actual life? 
  3. Give the child a smile. Remember that you don’t know what else is going on in their lives. Did mom or dad express disappointment last night in some other way? Did the child get picked on on the bus this morning? Keep the situation in perspective; despite all the other chaos that could be happening, wouldn’t it just be best if child knew they could get a smile from you, despite mistakes? 

Using these three techniques has actually helped my students come to class more prepared. I often thought without scolding and shaking my finger that kids would think they could walk all over me and just not bother bringing what they need. Instead, as I show them that I care for them, they in turn show care for my class and want to work to please me! Mission accomplished!

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