This week on the Truth for Teachers: If you’re feeling frustrated in the classroom because it seems like your students are simply refusing to learn, then it might be time to take a step back and rethink the way you see the situation. We’ll take a look at some of the commonly-held limiting beliefs and assumptions about “bad” students and how this might be shaping your teaching experience.

If you’re frustrated with kids who don’t seem to be putting forth any effort, this episode can help you shift your mindset and think about the problem in new ways. 

We’ll examine 3 limiting beliefs that are a very common part of many people’s worldview, and look for ways to choose perspectives that are more constructive and helpful. 

When you feel like you’ve tried EVERYTHING, sometimes the missing piece is to change the way we think about the problem … and this episode can help you choose thoughts that serve you (and your students) better.

I’ll recap the big ideas below, with an embedded podcast player for listening to the episode and full transcript to follow underneath.

Recap and Big Ideas

Limiting beliefs aren’t necessarily conscious beliefs. These are worldviews that have been ingrained in us over the years and we’re not always aware of them. We can tell if these beliefs are there by examining the things that we say and do.

Limiting belief #1: Some kids just don’t want to learn.

  • Not wanting to learn is different from not wanting to learn in class. More than just a semantic difference, this is a difference in the fundamental way we address and understand student motivation.
  • It’s simply not true that the student doesn’t care about anything — you just haven’t discovered what they care about.
  • The last thing that disengaged students need is a teacher who doesn’t believe in them.
  • Kids can feel when adults don’t believe in them so root out this limiting belief that students don’t want to learn to avoid making it a self-fulling prophecy.

Limiting belief #2: My job is to keep the kids who don’t want to learn from ruining it for the kids who do want to learn.

  • Your job as a teacher is to teach them all, and to reach them all, or at least never give up trying.
  • When we create the dichotomy of good and bad students in the classroom, we’re giving ourselves permission to stop trying with certain students
  • This limiting belief prevents you from identifying the root cause behavioral issues, to figure out why the student is not focusing or putting forth any effort, and to help that child succeed.

Limiting belief #3: Punishment, suspension, and expulsion are the ONLY way disruptive students can be stopped.

  • This retribution model is replicated in the way we discipline kids in school but you can choose to think differently.
  • Use restorative justice practices that teach kids how to take accountability for their choices and make restorations for the harm that they cause. A restorative justice approach will help you integrate that student back into your classroom after removal.

Subscribe in your podcast app,

or download the MP3 here and listen on the go

Sponsored by Wipebook Flipchart and BBT Edventures

Limiting belief #1: Some kids just don’t want to learn.

The first limiting belief is that there are some kids who just don’t want to learn. I don’t believe it’s true that an individual student is not interested in learning. A student may not be interested in learning what you want to teach, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn, they’re not interested in preparing for their future, or that they don’t want to be a success in life. 

Everyone wants to be a success in life, we all define that differently, and your students may have ideas about how they want to live that don’t align with what you think is best for them, but no child wants to be a hopeless loser.

If a student does not want to learn in class, that’s very different from not wanting to learn. This is not just a semantic difference, it’s a difference in the fundamental way we address and understand student motivation. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to make every task in your class super exciting and fun, or that the student has no responsibility to meet you halfway. What we’re looking at here is simply limiting beliefs. 

You cannot allow yourself to consciously or subconsciously believe that there are students in your class who just don’t care about anything. It’s simply not true. You just haven’t yet discovered the things that the student cares about, or found a way to make school relevant to the things that the student cares about.

It’s important for the child’s sake and yours that you let go of a limit to believe the kids don’t care. It’s extremely demoralizing to feel like you’re walking into a classroom every day where half the class doesn’t want to learn. So stop telling yourself that. It’s not true. Believing that is going to kill your motivation for teaching, and it’s gonna make it harder for you to reach those kids.

They’re already disengaged — the last thing they need is a teacher who doesn’t believe that they’re never going to amount to anything.

Stay focused on the things that motivate you and excite you about teaching so you can bring that enthusiasm to the classroom. Your students are more likely to be engaged when you are excited about what is happening in the classroom and taking a genuine interest in your students. 

I know I’m going to get into your stuff a little bit here and step on some toes but this is tough love meant to better you for the sake of your students. We can’t complain that students don’t have the grit and perseverance to follow through with the task, to keep trying with things that are hard, to do things that they don’t want to do when we are modeling that with them.

When we give up on kids because they don’t put forth the effort or when we stop trying because they stop trying, what we’re modeling for them is the same behavior that they’re giving back to us. 

We are the adults in the room, we are the professionals, we are responsible for breaking this cycle. When you have a student who is engaged, if you don’t want him or her to give up on the learning process, then don’t give up on him or her. If you want that student to come in every day ready to learn and ready to give his or her best, then it’s important that you also come ready to give your best.

Remember, kids can feel when adults don’t believe in them or don’t like them or don’t see the potential in them. This is not about what you say as much as it is about how you make them feel. So root out that limiting belief that students don’t want to learn and you could avoid making it a self-fulling prophecy.

Limiting belief #2: My job is to keep the kids who don’t want to learn from ruining it for the kids who do want to learn.

Here’s why this is a limiting belief. Your job as a teacher is not just to teach the kids who “want to learn.” It’s to teach them all, and to reach them all, or at least never give up trying.

When we segment our class into kids who want to learn and kids who don’t, what we’re saying, in fact, is that there are good kids and bad kids. Then we end up wanting to get the bad kids out of our hair, out of the room, where they cannot disrupt the learning for the good kids.

Now I know this is a frustrating experience for a teacher. And I know that you cannot force a child to learn. There are some kids for whom it feels almost impossible to engage. 

But when we create this dichotomy in the classroom, we’re giving ourselves permission to stop trying with certain students. And though this may be our hardest and least favorite part of teaching, continuing to try on behalf of students who are not putting forth their own effort is part of the job. We cannot write off a portion of the class as unwilling to learn. 

I think most of us know that the way to solve this problem is by identifying the root cause of the behavioral issue, to figure out why the student is not focusing or putting forth any effort, and to help that child succeed. 

But our limiting beliefs are what keep us from acting on that knowledge. On a conscious or subconscious level, we believe there are children in our class who just don’t want to learn, or aren’t capable of learning, and therefore the only thing we can do is try to make sure they don’t keep the other kids from getting a good quality education. 

And it’s that limiting belief that causes us to get frustrated. It’s not the kids themselves or how they’re behaving. It’s our belief about the kids’ behavior that generates frustration and makes the task of engaging all our students feel impossibly hard. 

These are very common and understandable limiting beliefs. I have battled with them myself. And that’s how I know how destructive they are. Because a belief like, “I have to make sure the bad kids don’t interfere with the good kids,” is what spurred me to start saying things like, “If you don’t want to learn, get out of my classroom. Just go.” I’m not gonna pretend like I haven’t said those exact words many, many, many times. I’m not proud of having said that, but I have said it. And start looking for any opportunity, any minor infraction, to push a portion of our “bad” students” out of the room so we only have to educate the ones we deem as “good.” 

And you know where this comes from? We’ve been conditioned as a society to believe that there are good guys and bad guys in the world, and that plays out in how we see our students. 

In almost every movie you’ve ever watched, particularly American movies, in every TV show there are the good guys who you’re supposed to root for, and there are the bad guys who are trying to destroy everything. The bad guys are usually one dimensional: they want to take over the world because they are power-hungry, or they’re totally selfish and don’t think about anyone but themselves.

(That’s what makes movies like Black Panther so exceptional: they challenge the good guy/bad guy dictomochy and force us to reconsider the labels.)

But we see this from childhood, and so we grow up thinking that this is how human nature works. We think that the majority of people are good, but there’s a small portion of the population who are the bad guys. And it’s the job of the good guys to stop the bad guys.

In the classroom, we are conditioned to think of ourselves as the good guys who are there to serve the good guys in our class. These are the students who want to learn and want to do well. But there are a handful of bad guys in every class who are there to disrupt the learning. They don’t want to learn and it’s our job to protect the good guys so the bad guys don’t ruin it for them.

And remember, these aren’t necessarily conscious beliefs. These are worldviews that have been ingrained in us over the years and we’re not necessarily aware of them. We can tell if these beliefs are there by examining the things that we say and do.

When we say things like, “I don’t want to see your face in this classroom anymore. If you don’t want to learn, get out.” What we’re saying is, “You are the bad guy. You’re here to keep the good guys from accomplishing their goals and I’m not going to allow you to do that. I don’t really care what happens to you, I don’t really care whether you learn or get ahead, I just want you out of my classroom.”

Limiting belief #3: Punishment, suspension, and expulsion are the ONLY way disruptive students can be stopped.

When we find ourselves or our colleagues talking about how kids just don’t care and don’t want to learn and are “ruining it for everyone else“, we must correct this as a limiting belief that can hold our students back from being successful. 

We know intellectually that there are many reasons why a student may be disruptive in class or appear unmotivated to learn. And we know as educators that the proper response to those students is to try to uncover that root issue and address it, so those students can stay and learn. We know that the goal is for all students to be successful.

And yet, because of this “good guys/bad guys” mentality that most of us aren’t even aware that we have, we still find ourselves intentionally trying to get these kids suspended or expelled. We don’t have the support in place to help us, and we don’t want to deal with it. 

We hold to the line that, “It’s not fair to the other students for THESE KIDS to be in the class with them.” I’ve said that — go back to EP99 about Why I let 2 kids’ behavior ruin my school year (and what I wish I’d done differently). We try to push those kids out because it’s easier than insisting that the school provides the support we need in order to educate ALL our students.

I know that you don’t probably have the counselors and other faculty and programs to help you meet the needs of all your learners. Our schools have not traditionally been set up that way and it’s getting more extreme now as many districts are essentially outsourcing student discipline to the criminal justice system, having kids arrested for things like talking back to the teacher or being expelled for not wearing a uniform too many times.

Traditionally speaking, the notion of retribution and punishment is built into the way we do school. These are ideals that have been reinforced in our society since birth. You can see this in our entertainment, as well: it seems like every other show on TV these days is about law and order, crime and punishment, the good guys figuring out how to stop the bad guys. This idea of people needing to get what they deserve and pay for their crimes is far more ingrained in most of us than the idea that people should not be defined by their worst mistake. We’re taught to cheer as the “bad guys” get locked up as if that’s somehow the end of the story. 

This retribution model is replicated in the way we discipline kids in school. Check out EP126 on the school-to-prison pipeline for a more detailed analysis.

But you can choose to think differently. You can recognize that the idea that to punish students with suspensions and expulsions is the only way to stop the good kids from disrupting the bad kids … recognize that’s a limiting belief. It does not serve you or your students well.

Use restorative justice practices that teach kids how to take accountability for their choices and make restorations for the harm that they cause.  A restorative justice approach will help you integrate that student back into your classroom after removal so that the student has the support needed to be successful.

The most important thing you can do when you turn off this podcast is to notice and observe when these limiting beliefs pop into your head. Notice when you start to label the good kids and bad kids. Watch the language that you use when you talk about your students — often it’s easier to hear yourself than it is to just observe thoughts. Notice any criminalizing words you use, such as “repeat offenders.” 

And when you hear your colleagues display evidence of these limiting beliefs, gently draw their attention to it. Send them the link to this podcast or blog post if you want me to explain. Challenge the stereotypical teachers’ lounge chat complaining about “these kids don’t care, these kids don’t want to learn.” 

Replace those limiting beliefs with a thought like this,

“I am determined not to give up on my students. I will fight for them to have the resources they need to be successful. I will see them as individuals and not as labels. I acknowledge the potential in each child and speak to that potential each day, rather than labeling kids based on their past choices. Every day is a new and fresh start for them and for me. I choose to notice and let go of limiting beliefs that don’t serve me or my students well.”

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

See blog posts/transcripts for all episodes

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Subscribe to the podcast in Spotify

Subscribe to the podcast in Google Play

Discussion

1 Comment

  1. Derek

    I think you’re right in with these 3 limiting beliefs. I know I’ve said the same things. What I noticed was that you made no reference to race. I think if you challenged teachers to examine who they were thinking of when they had these thoughts it would be first black boys, then other students of color. Interestingly, black men out often times play the “bad guys” in movies.

Post a Comment

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!

Want more ideas?

Here are a few other posts that might be helpful. You can also use the categories or search bar underneath to browse by topic and find exactly what you want.