I wonder what Nicole is thinking?

Have you ever had that one student that you just can’t connect with? And I’m not talking about the student that you don’t vibe with or “take to” and thus the teacher-student relationship is always a little bit less genuine than you would like. I am talking about that student that just maintains a wallflower like demeanor; never really too excited about any activity or assignment, rarely chimes in during class talks, doesn’t really hand in homework assignments although you know she is capable of doing them. And you’ve tried to address the situation in every possible way; the one-on-one light talk, the nurturing adult figure, the support-by-any-means convo, the stern commander, all that… and nothing. Nothing seems to crack her. Well, I got myself one of those, and I often find myself simply wondering what she is thinking…


I know she wants to get more involved but she, I guess, doesn’t seem to know how. The academics are not too difficult for her but she often sits there, staring at her sheet or the textbook. Occasionally, she glances at the other students observing them multitask by working away while holding small conversations with each other. And the students never ever shun her. In fact, they always look for ways to get her involved. She usually will for a bit and then she casually drifts off back into her own world.


I’ve read her writing, a memoir she wrote, actually. In it, I can hear a person who is happy, family oriented and fun. But her thoughts seem trapped, unable to be expressed in front of people. And I feel like I am failing her as a teacher. All I really want to know when she is in my class is what she is thinking…


I feel like I am failing Nicole. Teaching in elementary school is ultimately about nurturing self-esteem and sending adolescents off to high school with confidence, life skills, and a modest awareness about the workings of society. How can I ensure Nicole leaves my space with these tools if I do not know what she is thinking? This situation makes me realize, even more than I already compartmentally understood, that effective teaching means being part teacher and additional parts nurturer, counselor, advocate, and friend. Teachers must be able to wear all of these hats at different times and in different contexts. But an ability to understand when and where to don these roles starts with communication and understanding the thinking of your students. I still wonder what Nicole is thinking but luckily there are many more days in the year for me to figure it out. At that point, I will be able to help in a better capacity.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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