This Post It Note Confirms What I Know For Sure

Amen to this! There is a lazy tendency on the part of many—certainly not all—to assume that the “bad kids” aren’t smart. And it’s just not true. While I reject ascribing the word “bad” to kids, we will stick with it since the student who wrote the note chose to use that wording. Often times, the smartest students struggle most to regulate their behavior in school because they are so damn bored. Or are incredibly bright but haven’t actually been taught to read. They have thoughts and ideas that are profound. They get it after the teacher goes over it once. And they have so much to contribute that gets missed because they’ve already been labeled or caricatured as “the bad kids.”

When you are tasked with responding to issues of discipline and behavior as I was for a time in two different schools, you see so much of the intellect and potential in the students who struggle to manage their behavior in a traditional classroom. These wise-before-their-years students came to me when they were asked to leave class and while they weren’t always great at owning their part of whatever breakdown had occurred, they revealed so much about how they smart they were during the time we spent together.  They saw things that other didn’t. They were rockstars in math. They empathized in ways that others couldn’t. And sometimes their writing—which I read on the forms they filled out about the behavior incident—revealed a gift for prose that I often didn’t see in highly educated people twice their age.

They blew me away with how smart they were every single day.

Fast forward to now and I have the privilege of working with former middle school students of mine on their college essays. And all I have to say is, I told you so. These talented young men and women—some of whom spent much of their middle and early high school years kicked out of class or “in trouble” —are being scooped up by colleges and universities and winning jaw dropping merit awards. I look forward to sharing some of their essays here once their final college decisions have been made.

I will keep this picture in my mind and heart, though, because it isn’t only a reminder of the truth but it is such a perfect example of the wisdom to be found in students.

This post was first published at Good School Hunting. Republished with permission.


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Erika Sanzi

Erika spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system, persistent but surmountable achievement gaps, and what she sees as a culture of low expectations that disproportionately impacts low-income students of color.

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