Want to drive your students crazy? Read about the five things that teachers do that students hate. Keeping these in mind will help you have a great start to the new school year!

There is so much that informs a teacher’s practice. We must listen to federal and state mandates, district initiatives, building principals. But in all the chatter, we must not forget to listen to the voices of our students. And so, in that spirit, I asked some of my high school students what they enjoy most about school and their teachers, and then, of course, what aggravates them. First, here are students’ top five things teachers do that drive students crazy:

1. Taking forever to grade and return work.  “I worked like an animal on that project, and I didn’t get it back for a month. By that time, I had forgotten what it was even about. It no longer meant anything to me.”  

As teachers, we all know the rules about feedback being targeted, specific, and timely. But with our intense workload, there is much that can get in the way of correcting. Students want to remind us, however, that an assignment can lose relevancy if it is graded weeks after it is handed in. Since there is plenty of research showing that feedback helps motivate students and enables them to persevere, managing the grading load is critical.

2. No patience with questions“I know you’ve probably heard my question before, but it’s new to me. It also might be repetitive – maybe you did just answer it five minutes ago, but I swear, I really didn’t understand. Please don’t embarrass me by rolling your eyes or sighing with impatience.”

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how important the act of questioning is to thinking, communicating, and even social interaction. Helping a student develop questioning skills can be extremely valuable. That may mean teaching a student how to ask a question or even how to answer his/her own question. Even so, no matter how many times we answer a question, it is important to show patience and empathy to all our students.

3. Testing on material you didn’t teach – “Seriously, why do teachers do this? Do they forget and think they taught us something they didn’t? Nothing is more frustrating than trying to call up knowledge about something you know you’ve never learned.”

I took issue with this one, explaining to the students that we want them to interpret and apply the knowledge from the lessons, and so while it may seem that they didn’t learn the material, they actually learned the skill needed for success. But they were adamant in stating that this was not what they meant. They talked about being tested on material they never, ever learned. I would encourage teachers to use the backwards design model – deciding what you want students to know and be able to do before creating the lesson – to make sure that this doesn’t happen in your classroom.

4. Punishing the whole class“I did my homework. I was up past midnight. But now because most of the class didn’t do it, we are getting twice as much homework tonight. And you’re mad at all of us.”

Group contingencies can be tricky. Sometimes they can motivate students and help them work toward a common goal. In that respect, reward contingencies work much better than ones that punish. Most students will definitely rebel against receiving a consequence for someone else’s behavior, and you may make the offending or non-compliant student a target in your classroom. If you punish the class for the actions of a few, students may end up resenting you, and you will most likely lose their trust.  So think twice before punishing the entire class, and stick with the positive reinforcement that goes along with a reward contingency.

5. No autonomy in choices – “Everything is so rigid. Why can’t we pick our own groups? Why can’t we get a couple of choices for assignments? Why can’t I research something that I’m interested in? Or pick my own book for literature circles?”

Students like options. They hate inflexible requirements. Students like to choose their own groups for cooperative learning or their own topic for research. They prefer to select from several options for assessment. But we don’t give students the autonomy they crave. Allowing students to exercise some control over their own learning will empower them, and that can be extremely motivating. Permitting students to demonstrate their understanding several ways – choosing their own essay topic, selecting their own book for literature circles, deciding on what part of an assignment they will do first, can be appealing and inspiring for them. As long as assignment or assessment aligns with the goals of your classroom, giving the student autonomy to choose can be a win-win for both the student and teacher.

Keeping these five complaints in mind will help you get your school year off to a great start! Stay tuned next week when I’ll reveal the “Five Things Teachers Do that Students Love”!

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