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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Diamonds in the rough — or roughnecks?

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Rebels and rule-breakers may be original thinkers who will change the world, writes teacher Ashley Lamb-Sinclair in The Atlantic. Albert Einstein was a teacher’s nightmare in his school days, she writes.

One of her students, “a brilliant creative writer” and reader of “highly intellectual books, articles, and authors,” is failing two classes.

He rolls his eyes at anything he deems as busy work, comes into class and intentionally sits with his back to me, and continues to chat with friends long after I have started the lesson. He barely completes most assignments, if at all, and I have to constantly nag him to focus and stop distracting other students. He is, in short, a huge pain. But when his parent came in to have a conference with me last fall, I found myself looking a worried adult in the eye and telling him what I believe to be the truth: His son is going to be okay. In fact, I told him that his son will someday stand out from the others; he will find a career he loves because he is passionate, intense, brilliant, and fiercely independent.

“Teachers can create strengths-focused classrooms” that give students positive outlets for their rebellion, such as writing or drama, Lamb-Sinclair writes.

. . .  the class clown, the snarky kid in the back, and the D-student . . . tend to be courageous, outspoken, persistent, and creative people—kids who may not make great students or become the kind of employees with a “really strong handshake,” but who instead become the kind of people who lead and forge new paths for others.

Lamb-Sinclair interviews Carla Shalaby, a former elementary teacher and teacher educator, about her new book, Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.

My skepticism (and probably yours) is shared by Walt Gardner, who doubts that persistently disruptive students are diamonds in the rough. Yes, Einstein was a troublemaker in school, he writes. But most troublemakers aren’t Einsteins.

Teachers should “try to understand why some students are disruptive,” writes Gardner.  “But it’s quite another story to maintain that these students are the future . . .  because they are orginal thinkers.  In some cases, they’re also future felons.”

I wonder: Are disruptive, disengaged students “often” independent and creative? Sometimes? Occasionally?

Once a “teacher’s nightmare,” Oregon Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham thanks his sixth-grade teacher, John Brandt, for getting him to “love school again and trust teachers again.”

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